The Future of Visual Engineering

  • October 11, 2017

The way sunlight falls through different parts of a home throughout the day, or how a house appears from the front door versus the back. It could be a flyover, drone-like view of a 3D model or the instant digitization of notes and sketches done on traditional paper.

These are all things that Cal State East Bay students could only imagine before the launch of the university’s new Center for Construction Engineering Advanced Technologies and its centerpiece, the Huddlewall. 

At first glance, the 18-by-4 foot Huddlewall looks like an oversized whiteboard, but when Assistant Professor of Engineering Fadi Castronovo hits a play button, viewers are suddenly flying through detailed renderings of homes, high-rises and complex building sites, watching how various stages of construction come to life. A few minutes later, using a small, digital pen, Castronovo — one of four co-directors of CEAT — begins modeling how students from different disciplines will now be able to bring their individual perspectives to bear upon new, collaborative assignments.

“Sometimes an engineer will design something and you’ll get to the construction phase and realize it won’t work,” Castronovo says. “And you’ll have to start all over from the beginning, which wastes time and costs money.”  

Alongside Castronovo are the centers’ co-directors and construction management professors Reza Akhavian, Cristian Gaedicke and Farzad Shahbodaghlou. Shahbodaghlou said he’s been working for three years to secure a space and find the right professors, technology and support to start a center like CEAT.

“The construction field is going through a tech revolution,” he says. “We need to be doing practical research in conjunction with the industry to train the future employees of the construction industry.”

Which is why, in addition to the daily benefits of CEAT for 200 construction management students, the Huddlewall will be also be used to position Cal State East Bay as a destination for industry players. With the technology being so rare and valuable, CEAT has plans to host tech meetups and career fairs, and has already begun inviting regional companies to use the Huddlewall for their own professional purposes. Newark-based Sanveo, for instance, which builds high-rise buildings for clients like Visa and Tech Giant, is one potential partner.

“We’re going to be focusing on getting the industry to come here [and use the wall], both for them to learn how to use it and leverage the technology, but also to perform research with us and the students, creating a steady flow between the industry and our students,” Castronovo says.

“Our faculty are leaders in the use of technology and engineering education and I think that’s something special about East Bay.”

And the Huddlewall, housed within CEAT’s Automation and Visualization Laboratory, is only part of its new offerings. The center also boasts a second lab called the Immersive and Interactive Classroom that is equipped with 10 virtual reality computer stations, enabling students to turn 2D designs into realistic 3D models or see where furniture or objects within a home should be placed.  

According to College of Science Dean Jason Singley, who says the professors have been a powerhouse in making sure Cal State East Bay students have access to the most innovative tools possible, CEAT is an exciting addition to the university and the East Bay region.

“Our faculty are leaders in the use of technology and engineering education and I think that’s something special about East Bay,” he says. “With the Huddlewall and the virtual reality lab — both new this year — we’re doing some experimentation and thinking about how we can improve student learning through technology. We’re showing how the university can help communities grow [and] adapt.”