Cell Industries

Full-Stack Tech Lead2014
Cell Industries logo

Although Cell Industries is a 10 year old University project, I still showcase it proudly.

The use of innovative web technologies, flat design and modern APIs has helped it stand the test of time.

This project includes programmatic generation of 3D data, rendering 3D models in the browser, augmented information from WolframAlpha, webcam gesture interaction and much more!

3D model of a mountain range with a river running through it

Programmatically Generating 3D Topographical Models

First, the user is required to zoom in and select a 50km2 tile on the map.

Tiles with varied elevation such as mountains produce more interesting looking models.

A UI with a satellite map split up into square tiles; one of which is selected.

We then run an algorithm to generate a height map.

Expand for technical details
  1. Get the bounding coordinates of the tile
  2. Divide the tile into a matrix of coordinates according to a preset resolution
  3. Flatten the matrix of coordinates into an array
  4. Batch request the elevation of each coordinate using Google's Elevation API
  5. Band the elevation values to slightly exaggerate flatter areas
  6. Normalise the elevation values so they range from 0 to 255
  7. Use PHP's GD library to generate a height map PNG using the elevation values
A row of three images: a black and white pixellated height map, a colour satellite image and a 3D model showing the amalgamation of the previous two.

Finally, the browser renders the 3D model.

Expand for technical details
  1. Initialise a Three.js scene with camera and lighting
  2. Load the height map as a displacement shader
  3. Smooth the geometry by blurring the height map image with StackBlur.js
  4. Request the satellite imagery for the coordinates using the Google Maps Static API and apply it as a diffuse texture
  5. Render the scene
A UI with a 3D model of a mountain glacial landscape as the prominent feature. It is surrounded by information about the local area such as time, weather and what's nearby.

Interactive 3D Visuals & Augmented Data

Three.js is used to render the 3D scene. We implemented controls to rotate and zoom the model with the mouse and keyboard.

As an experiment with the cutting edge WebRTC technology, we added code which allowed the user to rotate the model by gesturing swipe-like motions in front of their webcam.

Screenshot of the UI instructing the user how to gesture at their webcam to rotate the 3D model. There is also an embedded image of a user gesturing with their hand.

We leveraged WolframAlpha's API to augment the UI with live data relating to the physical location such as time, weather and nearby attractions.

An example of the raw data that is retrieved from WolframAlpha

Back-End Technology

The back-end is built on the LAMP stack. It uses an MVC architecture, server-side forms, and self-built authentication and user accounts secured with salted hash encryption.

A screenshot of the sign in and register forms.

Design Process, Kanban & Best Practices

The project was designed using wireframes, mockups and user feedback to iteratively make improvements.

Various A4 sheets with hand-drawn wireframes of the user interfaces

We managed the project with a physical kanban board and regular standups.

Features were prioritised into three categories to ensure all the vital tasks were completed.

Development implemented a Git workflow with regular code reviews.

A wall with sticky notes stuck to it in various columns

The site was built to be mobile-first responsive, and I built a variety of utility classes enabling the team to quickly build out the UI.

Leveraging feature detection and progressive enhancement, we achieved partial browser support down to IE8 and no JavaScript!

A collage of UI components

Award Winning

This project was awarded the Sagittarius Digital Prize for
The Best Integrated Multimedia Project in Multimedia Technology and Design.

Click here to read the full article.


This project was built in collaboration with Jacob Hammond and Joseph Williams.