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How Mixed Reality Could Speed Up Construction Projects

Reality is a reality the last time we checked, right?  We know that construction projects have a tendency to take longer than expected to complete.  But what about the terms “mixed reality and “reality capture.” What sort of disruptive words are these? Allow us to explain.

Mixed Reality

A mixed reality viewer allows users to open 3D models inside Windows 10, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive, and view them with a mixed reality headset, or on a standard 2D monitor. Features of the new application, according to The Verge, include:

  • New logo
  • New interface
  • Headsets that have cameras and sensors to track motion controllers
  • The potential of adding augmented reality experiences or passthrough mode

Mixed reality (MR), also called hybrid reality, combines real and virtual worlds to produce unique environments and visualizations by use of physical and digital objects co-existing and interacting in real time. It’s the 21st century, folks.

Reality Capture

This new tool captures a digital 3D model of a subject from unordered photographs of the real world. The application’s features include:

  • Image alignment
  • Texturing
  • Calibration
  • Parallel projections
  • Coloring
  • Calculating a polygon mesh
  • Georeferencing
  • DSM
  • Simplification
  • Scaling
  • Smoothing
  • Measurement
  • Coordinate system conversion, and more

Augmented Reality and Construction

Mixed reality gives construction workers, architects, and engineers the information they need where it is most necessary – in their real-world work context.  By employing Microsoft’s new HoloLens, users can engage with their digital content and interact with holograms, thus, increasing productivity. explains how the models are made:

Laser scanners collect surface data about an object or structure by beaming a laser repeatedly off its surface and plotting points (equivalent to each beam that is fired) into what’s known as a point cloud. Once this surface topology data is collected, it is formatted in the native file type of the laser scanner being used.

Then the cloud information is imported to photogrammetries (the use of surveying and mapping to measure distances between objects using photography) software, like Autodesk ReCap, which converts reality into a 3D model or 2D drawing. ReCap creates 3D models in minutes and removes unnecessary objects (people, cars, etc.) automatically.

Reality Capture Stories

Building Information Modeling (BIM) has given architecture, construction, and engineering specialists a process that offers insight and tools to:

  • Design
  • Construct
  • Plan
  • Manage infrastructure and buildings

According to Aiden Mercer, director of architecture, engineering, and construction at Bentley Systems, 

“The benefits BIM advancements offer can be experienced on projects of all types and sizes. From a technology perspective, a BIM strategy enables the integration of data-rich models and project information databases to build a virtual representation of a project and all assets. All stakeholders can access reliable information, making collaboration easier, reducing risks and improving return-on-investment.”

The BMI Learning site offers an educational use for reality capture techniques when it shares that Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West winter home has been a subject of reality capture technology. The renowned structure was photographed using a 3D imaging laser scanner so that visitors and architectural students can view the grounds, the architectural details, and the interior of the home. According to The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, “the point cloud data is invaluable for the preservation of Taliesin West and can be used to continue its legacy as a living laboratory. The data gathered for this project will inform and inspire the architectural community as well as the students that study here”.

Reality Television

Naturally, the movie industry is gobbling up this new technology. Drones are being used to film movies, sports competitions, and commercials. A drone’s ease of use, agility, and affordability make it the go-to choice for capturing augmented reality. Now that the world of reality capture and mixed reality, who knows what tricks producers have up their sleeves. Movie directors have changed their vocabulary to communicate the ridiculously breathtaking angles their cameras can capture and manipulate.

Some of the technological changes occurring in the film arena include:

  • 4D seats that allow the viewer to feel on-screen explosions and car chases
  • Virtual landscapes
  • Pre-visualizations of CG sets and characters

Constructing Reality

Currently, drone technology is even being used to render vacations pics; take track construction progress, and whatever else can be dreamed up by groups of celebrators. Imagine such photos with reality capture, compared to (you have to admit it) sometimes endless 2D photographs. But we digress. MIT Technology Review, in an article written by Elizabeth Woyke, tells the story of John Myers, senior manager at Gilbane Building Company, a commercial construction firm in Rhode Island. Whereas blueprint or digital models were used up until now, Myers can get a closer look by using a HoloLens. Myers was studying a mockup of the project and saw that the steel frames that were about to be ordered to support the walls of the building were too long.

Naturally, the company was now able to ask the supplier to cut the frames to a shorter length. Doing so meant that Gilbane workers would not have to spend valuable time cutting the beams smaller in the company’s shop. Approximately $5,000 in labor costs were saved along with hours of valuable work time.

The $10 trillion construction industry is about to understand that fewer projects will run over budget, or behind schedule when holographic images are incorporated. Gilbane happens to be one of the early testers of the HoloLens.  Gilbane Vice President Sue Klawans says the HoloLens will also be able to assist the company in detecting errors in the manner that pipes and ducts are laid out in ceilings before the building is constructed. This ability to make a complicated task less of a challenge will also save time in the construction process.

There will come a time when builders will wear their HoloLens on the job and will “see in real time” what should be and what should not be. Another future correction will be the ability for users to take notes directly on the 3D images being viewed, another time saver.

The software application SketchUp already allows users to take notes in its HoloLens app. Builders can also circle problem areas and record short audio clips for explanations. No doubt, in the future, construction teams will be able to use their hands to move an element in a virtual mockup and visualize how the change affects the design. We’re going to want to see HoloLens improve (as a construction aid). But it’s a leap over what we were doing before. It’s not just a new toy.

Construction Industry Goals

It is critical for productivity to increase for construction companies based on the population growth explosion in 2050. Lack of productivity reflects on the construction’s bottom line. Problems related to working hours include:

  • Travel to the work area
  • Slow material shipping
  • Too many breaks
  • Planning time

Faster building time can be obtained through the use of BIM.

  1. One production barrier can take away profits for an entire company. The complexity of the design can also slow down progress. BIM methods can avoid both setbacks.
  2. A shortage of skilled laborers is wreaking havoc with construction companies’ profitability. Robert Leeds, writing for Digitalist, says:

The combination of increasing project complexity and decreasing experience is a risk multiplier, raising the risk of deliverable delays, quality construction problems, and employee safety concerns.

The technology that is quickly taking over the construction industry will help those who have not had real-time construction work experiences through faster training and by appealing to millennials.  Additionally, increasing the speed at which construction projects are completed can have a positive impact on the environment.  The sustainability of natural resources is decreasing, and the amount of the worldwide carbon emissions connected to the construction industry are between 25 to 40 percent. Technology is already in place that will assist in smart-planning, sustainable design, and possible reduction of energy consumption and pollution.


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About the Author

Adam Shore

Adam is a Central Florida alum who recently left the Orlando area to relocate to Denver, where he enjoys shooting aerial photography of the Rocky Mountains. And to ski. He is a member of the AMA and was been a drone photographer since the early days of the industry. Follow him @dronegenuity.