Creating virtual replicas of any climb indoors

Recently Alex Honnold made history by being the first climber to scale the legendary El Capitan climb in California without the aid of any ropes.  He trained for the ascent in multiple locations around the world, but an interesting project hopes to make preparing for challenging climbs somewhat easier.

The project uses 3D modeling and digital fabrication to allow replicas of the hardest part of any climb to be created so that they can be trained on indoors.

“What if you could take the experience of climbing places like these monuments but not climb the physical thing, actually bring it home to your local gym,” the team say. “You would still have the physical experience of climbing it without causing the erosion and damage to the location. There is also the aspect of accessibility, like if this is some place in Thailand or some remote location and you want to train for the route.”

Virtual reconstruction

The team took hundreds of photos of a climb from various angles to help them reconstruct the wall in 3D.  They then recorded the climber themselves to show their movements and identify the key parts of the climb, and create the fabricated holds at the right points.

They hope to eventually develop a system that can receive photos and videos from climbers to create a database of outdoor climbs that can then be recreated indoors.  They’re also working on new holds that are designed to feel more like the actual rocks on each climb.  They’re even working to make the climb look as visually similar to the real thing as possible, using perhaps virtual reality.

When the system was put through its paces by some amateur climbers, the feedback seems to have been incredibly positive.

“I was kind of blown away at just how precisely the body movements on the indoor climb recreated the outdoor movements,” one said.

Whilst it’s a good training aid however, it will never replace the feeling of actually going to a new place, exploring the terrain and physically being there when you climb a new ascent.

Climbing is an increasingly popular sport, so it will be interesting to see where the project goes from here.