Claudia Thijs is the Director of Global Field Marketing at OpenSpace, where she bridges sales and marketing and leads a talented team of marketers who are helping more builders discover the benefits of reality capture. MR: Thanks so much for spending some time with us, Claudia. Let’s get to know you a bit better!…
Construction Lessons from Star Wars’ Death Star: Why the Empire Needed 360° Reality Capture
May 4th, 2023
Innovation and passion can power the ultimate escape velocity
Hello there, and Happy Star Wars Day! How cool to live in a world where there’s a day set aside each year to celebrate this beloved franchise. In addition to capturing our collective imagination and bringing people together across space and time, these stories actually drove unprecedented technological innovation, catapulting Hollywood into a new digital era—not unlike the digital transformation of the construction industry happening now.
George Lucas had a problem; he had next-gen ideas but lived in a legacy world. He desperately needed his industry to catch up with his vision. Before Star Wars, special effects in films hadn’t advanced in more than 20 years. To break free of the status quo, Lucas took matters into his own hands and founded Industrial Light & Magic to create the tech directly.
“To tell the stories he imagined, Lucas needed new tools and pioneered the development of digital film editing, digital cinematography, digital projection and computer generated imagery (CGI). In turn, his creative vision—and the revolutionary techniques invented to realize that vision—transformed the movies. Today, these techniques are the standard in film and television.” —The Lucas Museum
Likewise, the construction industry is receiving its own overdue upgrade, with impressive new technology that is solving persistent challenges and propelling people from sticky notes and clipboards to 360° reality capture, AI-powered analytics, and immersive 3D models that you can navigate—complete with dollhouse view reminiscent of that trench on the Death Star.
Sometimes it just takes a small band of passionate rebels with the will to get involved in a cause to escape the gravitational pull of familiar tools and current thinking and address our biggest challenges.
Building the Death Stars: a cautionary construction tale
The Death Star was arguably the most devastating weapon ever created in the Galaxy. Developed by the Empire to terrorize planets and star systems that supported the Rebel Alliance, the moon-sized space stations had the power to destroy entire planets with a superlaser. The iconic structures loomed large in numerous Star Wars films and TV shows—they’ve been so crucial to the story that Star Wars sometimes feels more like a construction saga than a space opera.
Officially known as Orbital Battle Stations, both iterations of the Empire’s most terrifying creation came about despite being the most poorly run construction projects in (fictional) history. But what if the Empire had used 360° reality capture to build the Death Stars? Things would likely have gone very differently.
Indeed, teams that use reality capture solutions can generate significant efficiency improvements with new ways of completing tasks. Many of the core processes on a construction site revolve around communication, decision-making, dispute resolution, and problem-solving. Reality capture serves all of these interests because it puts reliable information in the hands of every stakeholder on either side of the Force—whether on-site, in the office, or across the Galaxy.
In fact, we were able to get our hands on a secret Imperial post-mortem report documenting flaws in the construction processes of both Death Stars that supports this assertion. We publish it in its entirety below.
Many Bothans died to bring us this information.
Report: Analysis of 360° reality capture as likely solution to Death Star construction delays
A secret consulting task force was commissioned by the Imperial Security Bureau (ISB) to generate a detailed analysis of the reality capture technology from OpenSpace, developed in a remote, neutral star system. This report outlines ways the technology could have ensured a more successful outcome for the Emperor with respect to the construction of the DS-1 Orbital Battle Station and DS-2 Death Star II Mobile Battle Station (codename Second Sun) and provides our assessment of the failure of both construction projects.
1. Faster and more comprehensive jobsite documentation
The construction of the first Death Star was plagued by constant sabotage and supply chain challenges, but there were other reasons the project was delayed so significantly, such as poor project management, less than transparent communications, and resistance to the Emperor’s plans to seize galactic control. This reality capture solution enabling hands-free, automated jobsite documentation would surely have sped up the pace of construction.
The first Death Star was constructed from more than 1.08×10^15 tons of steel and had a diameter of 160km. Because the first station had more than 360 million square kilometers of floor space, it would have taken Darth Vader over 11.4 million years to mop the floors of the entire Death Star if he were to attempt this without a break. This calculation helps conceptualize the challenge of documenting a project of this scale. The 400,000 maintenance droids stationed there could have performed site walks (no breaks needed) and would have had the discipline to adhere to a set capture cadence, a best practice.
Construction of the second Death Star, larger than the first, would have also fared better using a solution like OpenSpace Capture. Moff Tiaan Jerjerrod, assigned to oversee the final stages of construction, could have delegated documentation to lower-level workers and droids, freeing up time for senior personnel to focus on more strategic activities, such as Lord Vader’s ongoing search for young Skywalker while the work continued.
Leveraging yet another benefit of 360° reality capture, the Empire would also have had a better way to collect and present visual data to help station occupants and workers navigate the station. There have been numerous reports of stormtroopers losing their way while attending to their duties, greatly reducing overall efficiency.
2. Automated progress tracking
Using an automated progress tracking tool, it would have been easy for Lord Vader and the Emperor to confirm the true status of these projects and speak to facts rather than opinions. Although the construction of the second Death Star was happening at a faster pace than the first station, there were still delays that rightly concerned the Emperor. During a fear-inducing site visit, Vader offered to find “new ways to motivate” the workers and noted that the Emperor was “most displeased with [their] apparent lack of progress.” Jerjerrod, upon learning that the Emperor would soon be arriving, said the team would double their efforts.
According to our evaluation of this technology, automated progress tracking provides independent, image-based data, processes it for insights, and displays it in context, mapped to project plans. Lord Vader’s gift of clairvoyance notwithstanding, ordinary personnel can’t be everywhere and see everything. However, our assessment is that OpenSpace Track would be a trusted digital copilot that covers blind spots and provides the data needed to make more informed decisions by segmenting, classifying, and tracking specific items and systems across time and space.
3. Reduced travel and new remote site management capabilities
If the Empire had used reality capture on its construction projects, the field and office teams could have viewed the latest site conditions at a glance on mobile devices or desktop computers from anywhere in the Galaxy. The incredible detail of the 360° images would make it easier to identify any issues or discrepancies early on without needing to walk the site in person.
Indeed, by providing virtual access to jobsites, personnel would no longer need to visit sites physically to have visibility into the latest conditions, spot issues, or verify that work has been completed. Sources confirmed that the technology reduces the number of site visits by up to 50%, depending on the distance to the site and the type of project. Moreover, the technology would eliminate the requirement of jumping to hyperspace to visit every project.
Of course, the first Death Star presented other travel challenges. Beyond the time it would take for personnel to reach the Death Star, the site itself was so huge they’d need to fly from one end to the other to attend to day-to-day business. Accessing project data and walking the site virtually would be far more efficient and would have freed up pilots, planes, and shuttles for other purposes.
4. Strengthened collaboration
Our spies have gathered many critiques of the Death Star’s poor design, with architects and engineers weighing in on its structural weaknesses and its fundamental design flaws. One architect observed that the partitioned interior was inefficient, making it “particularly difficult for the Empire to know and control what is actually happening within the station. The rebels are able to take advantage of this disorienting layout when escaping, since even stormtroopers seem lost within the corridors,” according to WIRED.
An architect surveyed in this same missive said the biggest flaw was the requirement of exposed exhaust ports, an oversight he blames on a “lack of coordination between the design and engineering trades.” Of course, the thermal exhaust port was added deliberately by Imperial engineer Galen Erso, a preeminent scientist and a designer on the project, whom we now know committed this act of sabotage to help the Alliance destroy the Death Star with a single proton torpedo.
Using OpenSpace Field Notes to document issues, however, the Imperial personnel would have detected this flaw easily and assigned it to the right crew quickly, saving the many years it took to locate Erso after he fled the project.
5. More effective inspections and QA/QC
As noted, with more robust documentation and automated progress tracking in place, it would have been easier for Imperial personnel to spot the thermal exhaust port, the fatal design flaw hidden by Galen Erso. Being able to see the current site conditions alongside the design model, anyone with access to the project could have seen the defect quickly without needing to visit the station in person.
It’s worth noting that Erso’s intentional design defect would have likely caused the general contractor on this job to be liable to pay for the cost of the second Death Star since the contractor would have been responsible for discovering defects during construction. For this reason, project teams should have a reliable way to inspect jobsites from every angle. We advise an inquiry into this matter to determine whether funding can be recovered.
In our view, reality capture technology helps improve safety, reduce risk, and avoid destructive investigations. Equipping station personnel to quickly provide updates in near-real time and conduct virtual site walk-throughs would have enabled all relevant parties to review progress, track quality control, and review various inspections to take swifter action.
Death Star 1 Schematics (Image credit: Wookieepedia)
6. Secure shared folders
The technical plans for the first Death Star were stolen by the Rebel Alliance from where they were physically stored in the Imperial Center of Military Research complex on the planet Scarif. The Death Star was not operational then, and certain individuals acknowledged there was justifiable concern that the Alliance could penetrate Imperial defenses and potentially destroy the station.
Notably, in our investigation, we learned that Cassio Tagge stated openly in a meeting, “Until this battle station is fully operational, we are vulnerable. The Rebel Alliance is too well-equipped. They’re more dangerous than you realize… If the Rebels have obtained a complete technical readout of this station, it is possible—however unlikely—that they might find a weakness and exploit it.”
With a reality capture solution like OpenSpace, it’s possible to store site capture data in a secure environment that protects even the most secret project while allowing access to relevant parties in order to keep the project moving forward. Indeed, if the Empire had gone with a cloud-based solution with SOC-2 compliance, it’s quite possible that the Rebels would have had a much harder time gaining access to the files.
With more widely distributed data, the Emperor wouldn’t have had to worry about Galen defecting and stalling the project for so long when he went into hiding. Other team members could have had access to his work and proceeded without him, and this snarky, traitorous robot would never have ensured a copy of the Empire’s physical files reached the Rebel Alliance.
7. Better risk mitigation and reduced insurance premiums
With such a mission-critical project as the Death Star at stake, the Emperor would have been wise to take better precautions. Most general contractors would insist upon better inspections to limit liability on such a risky project. Further, experts noted many health and safety violations that made this a life-threatening project in more ways than one.
The insurance premiums on a project costing more than $850,000,000,000,000,000 ($850 quadrillion) would have been staggering. According to seized documents, we learned that certain insurance carriers like Shepherd have determined that OpenSpace reality capture creates greater visibility, which in turn reduces risk and uncertainty in construction and simplifies claims. For this reason, Shepherd offers reduced premiums to builders that use the OpenSpace technology, with others likely to follow suit.
8. Greater employee loyalty and retention
While the Emperor paid no mind to the morale of his personnel, instead ruling by fear. As it turned out, he was mistaken about a great many things.
Our sources confirmed that the construction industry faces a critical labor shortage, but even in the best of times, it’s not always possible to find the talent you need, let alone Galactic engineers who can endure a stressful work environment surrounded by sinister people pursuing evil objectives. Reality capture and other technologies are helping boost recruitment and retention in construction. The Empire would have been wise to consider the impact of these projects on individuals as a way of reducing the incidence of defection and sabotage.
We identified numerous personnel-oriented lessons to review, one of the most obvious being that employee performance suffers in toxic workplaces. It is possible to avoid pointless bickering by fostering a culture of open communication and equipping personnel with reality capture and other tools that improve accuracy and encourage greater communication, thereby creating a promising way to unlock the talent of a future workforce.
Conclusion: It is the finding of this task force that the Galactic Empire failed to achieve its overarching strategic objectives by mismanaging its largest construction projects that, if completed, would have assured galactic domination and crushed the Rebel Alliance once and for all. Specifically, the Emperor did not attain the necessary degree of accountability of relevant personnel, he did not provide a means for effective coordination, and he declined to invest in appropriate technology that would have simplified construction projects, and these factors together with others described herein, contributed significantly to the well-documented failures that have now been widely publicized beyond the Galaxy.
May the Fourth (and reality capture) be with you
We thank our friend, Nathan Zelenock, VDC Technologist at Miller Electric, for his heroic turn as a conscientious objector who intercepted and shared this timely report. He and a growing number of rebels in our own galaxy have discovered that by using OpenSpace reality capture, field teams can quickly and easily capture a comprehensive visual record of an entire jobsite and collaborate effectively with VDC and office teams.
Image credit: Nathan Zelenock
Our technology brings people together across space and time to see past activity, understand present conditions, and more accurately predict the future of their construction projects. Guided by AI (with one snarky sidekick), builders can build faster and smarter, collaborate more effectively, and love their jobs more.
Construction projects require significant investments of time, money, and labor. The Death Star program required much of the Galaxy’s resources, and the first “technological terror” took 20 years to build due to its unprecedented scale and the numerous aforementioned challenges. With the secrecy surrounding the Death Star, only a select few knew where these resources were going, and supply networks were complicated thanks to ongoing wars and blockades interfering with shipping routes. The Emperor would have been able to reduce costs along the way with reality capture, which would have saved him a lot of time spent lining up (coercing) additional funding sources for the project.
We’ve focused on the Empire, but lest we appear to be in league with the dark side of the Force, it’s worth noting that the Alliance would have also benefited if the Emperor had implemented OpenSpace reality capture. For example, when the Rebels gained access to the stolen physical plans, they would have found the exhaust port flaw (conveniently marked with field notes) without spending hours scouring the plans to find it. And later, when the second Death Star was being built, if Rebels had access to OpenSpace Field Notes, they could have coordinated when the shield generator was out of commission since they would have seen the status change to “Completed” before jumping to hyperspace and exposing their fleet to the Empire.
Vader finds his redemption eventually, transitioning away from the dark side of the Force, but the Emperor’s failure was complete. Learn from his mistakes, and in so doing, unlearn what you have learned. Be open to the possibilities of new solutions and new approaches. Discover how to mitigate risk and lower your insurance premiums. We’re here if you’d like to take a closer look at OpenSpace reality capture and explore how to steer clear of some of the Empire’s fatal flaws.