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Augmented Reality Now

How 3D visualization is changing the industry

In simple terms, augmented reality is the process of using technology to overlay virtual imagery and data on top of real world images (either through a camera-enabled device, sunglasses, a transparent display or LED-enabled contact lenses). For the sake of this discussion, augmented reality is the result of the convergence of several key technologies now available on the open market:

  • Precise 3D models
  • Mobile devices with the following components:
    – Gyroscope
    –GPS receiver
    –3G/4G Data connection
    –Multi-touch interactive displays
    –Front and rear facing high resolution cameras
    –Light sensor
    –Proximity sensor
    –Audio sensor
    –High resolution display
  • Accurate satellite imagery
  • Accurate street-level imagery
  • Precise Geographic Information System (GIS) data

With the advent of all of these technologies put together into portable devices like the iPhone and iPad, not to mention Android-based solutions like the Galaxy Tab and Motorola Xoom, data now meets visualization in a way we never could have imagined. The devices, combined with their data, allow the user to take a BIM model and render it in 3D on top of real world images.

To make this more useful, the display of these items is moving from a portable device to more usable devices like windshield displays of construction equipment, sunglasses and even contact lenses. This means that with increasingly accurate data, models, hardware and displays, the BIM models that estimating departments put together can be shipped to the field for use by the people actually performing the work. Below are a few examples that best illustrate the use of 3D models for various construction tasks like client walk-through, remodel designs, field reviews, and earthwork. In one of my recent talks an electrical subcontractor immediately asked after my talk if he could buy glasses for his workers that would overlay the electrical plans on everything they saw when they walked into a construction site. While this is not available yet, you can expect this type of technology to come on the market in the near future. And for those of you sci-fi fans out there, yes, this is RoboCop and Terminator coming to real life!

Videos (special thanks to VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland):
VTT Finland/Augmented Reality Youtube Channel
Multi-touch display used as a navigation tool in a 3D environment:
Augmented reality display of a building on a construction site:
Augmented Reality in Virtual Furnishing
Earthwork with Augmented Reality

The important take-away from all of this is that the new technologies that seem to not apply to all parts of construction, have significant ramifications when they come together. Who would have thought, five years ago, that 3D construction models could be overlaid on a real construction site through the use of specially designed sunglasses connected to the phone in your pocket?

The question really is how far these technologies will pervade the everyday life of the average construction worker, from a project supervisor to an estimator to the CFO. My favorite quote as of recently is from a general contractor at one of my talks: "I got into construction because you didn't have to be a rocket scientist, only to find out that now you have to be a rocket scientist to be in construction."

That comment is a reflection on how quickly technology in the construction industry is advancing, and is a sobering reminder that we all must keep pace with the innovation to remain competitive in today’s marketplace.

About the author
James Benham is President of SmartBidNet, which recently announced an integration partnership with Cloud Takeoff, providing cloud-based, real-time integration of communication, project documents and takeoff data so that general contractors and subcontractors can have Google Docs style collaboration on their plan files.


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