Microsoft HoloLens: making waves within the construction industry

By Catherine Sturman
Microsoft HoloLens is the worlds first fully self-contained holographic computer, running Windows 10. While weve made incredible advances in the way in...

Microsoft HoloLens is the world’s first fully self-contained holographic computer, running Windows 10. While we’ve made incredible advances in the way in which we interact with computers, we are still constrained by the need to conform to the ways computers recognize our commands through mouse clicks or by touching a screen.

Using holograms, the user can pin their digital content, such as apps, information, and even multi-dimensional videos, in the physical space around you, so you can interact with them in the same ways that you interact with other physical objects. It’s a great example of mixed reality – the ability to blend holograms into the real world.

The technology is completely self-contained, meaning there is no need for wires, phones, or a connection to a PC. HoloLens allows the user to pin holograms in their physical environment and provides a new way to see the world.

A hologram is an object like any other object in the real world with only one difference: instead of being made of physical matter, a hologram is made entirely of light. The holograms seen with Microsoft HoloLens can appear life-like and can move, be shaped, and change according to interaction with users or the physical environment in which they are visible.

HoloLens in construction

Aviad Almagor is Director of the Mixed Reality Programme at Trimble, providers of technology to the construction industry. Here are his thoughts on how HoloLens can transform construction sites in the future:

Mixed Reality technology such as Microsoft HoloLens and Trimble’s Mixed Reality applications blends real world objects with digital content, interactively, and in real time. It helps users efficiently interpret physical and digital information, and the spatial relations between them.

Unlike Virtual reality - in which the user is fully immersed in a digital world, disconnected and isolated from the surrounding - mixed reality is anchored to the physical space. This allows keeping the user engaged while enriching the environment with related digital content.

There are three main aspects of mixed reality which provide clear advantage for construction workers:

1. Real 3D Visualization

The Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry (AEC) is spatial by definition. The last few years’ transition from 2D documents to 3D models was a natural evolution, which improved team communication and coordination. 3D models are common today, but still, interacting with volumetric data behind a 2D screen is extremely limited. Mixed Reality and holographic technology bring the models out of the screen and provide users the ability to engage and interact with design data more intuitively. Moreover, unleashing the 3D model democratizes the data by offering a natural way to experience and understand the design. While years of education and practice might train architects to visualize their designs in 3D, other stakeholders have a hard time deciphering them.

By using Mixed Reality, stakeholders can walk around and explore the design in real 3D without the need for an expert to guide them and dictate their point of view. The freedom to move along the Reality - Virtuality Continuum is an additional advantage of Mixed Reality, with a major impact on the efficiency along the design-build-operate workflow. For some decisions or specific tasks, a real “unmodelled” world is required as visual input.

For other tasks, a mixed reality – a “world partially modelled” – or even a completely immersive Virtual Reality mode is ideal. With Mixed Reality, the user controls the “mix” and adjusts it according to his task requirements. Mixed Reality and holographic technology also improves remote collaboration. The ability to share 3D holograms with remote stakeholders, including participants’ position and gaze, improves communication and collaboration efficiency.

2. Seamless Translation

In every construction project, there is a decisive process, in which design is transformed into reality, abstract ideas are translated into physical objects. As almost every project is unique, site-specific and labour-based, intensive and accurate “translation” of the design information is required. The current translation process of turning design documents into reality is a constant struggle. It is a complex cognitive process in which wrong interpretation of data often leads to costly errors, quality issues and rework.

Digital 3D models reduce the level of abstraction and help clarify the design intent, but still, at the execution stage, there is a clear boundary between documentation and the real world. Mixed Reality technology blurs this line. With Mixed Reality, the information is superimposed on the physical environment. This minimises the need for translation and reduces subjective interpretation.

The user visualises the design in context, and can better understand, interact with and execute the required actions in real time. The immediate visual feedback also supports a more effective production control process. Overlaying design on as-build structures reveals any deviation and provides immediate feedback.

3. Extending the Digital Thread

Integration of business workflows and improved communication are clear goals in today’s AEC industry. The silo structure and the need to re-create data, when moving from one stage to the other, are still sources for major inefficiencies. Project delivery methods like IPD and technology changes such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) support this trend and have proven to positively impact project quality, cost and schedule. Mixed Reality technology supports integration and collaboration along three main axes:

The Project Stage Axis: Design to Build (and Operate): Moving along this axis, Mixed Reality brings 3D data to life and puts information in the user’s hands without the need to change or adjust the data format.

A sign-off BIM model can be projected in context to guide construction teams on-site, and later, by facility management teams when evaluating required changes or maintenance work.

The Digital to Physical Axis: Holographic display is not limited to 3D models. In fact, using Microsoft HoloLens, multi-layered datasets can be overlaid as holograms on the real world. A partial list includes 2D documents, energy analysis, light simulation, acoustics, layout data and equipment metadata. The ability to integrate digital and physical content and present data in context improves communication and leverages confidence in decision-making.

Office to Field Axis: Design to Build, Build to Design Sharing up-to-date design data with on-site teams is crucial in the dynamic construction environment.

Using Mixed Reality technology, construction, teams benefit from access to geo-located, context-based data, which can be projected and anchored to the physical environment around them. The ability to map the as-built physical environment supports communication from the field to the office and completes the Build to Design – Design to Build loop.

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Read the January 2017 issue of Construction Global here


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