Friday 9 November 2018

How Augmented Reality Will Innovate BIM Visualization

Augmented reality (AR) has made leaps and bounds over the past few years. With the explosion in power of mobile devices, nearly anyone with a modern smartphone can experience AR without specialized hardware. Both Apple and Google have created their own dedicated AR software frameworks, ARKit and ARCore, respectively, and have started to offer products with specialized AR chips. AR possesses the ubiquity and value to be used by many different industries. One sector that stands to benefit from AR is BIM -- building information modelling.

BIM technology affects many different industries, including architecture, engineering and construction. While there are many nuances and facets to BIM, it can briefly be described as a way to visualize, manage and coordinate data about a building or other kind of construction project. Imagine a scale model of a building, but with the ability to identify every component, every material and every foot of wiring. Companies like Microdesk help these industry professionals leverage BIM software and provide services to analyze data from their assets, facilities and processes to help improve their reliability, reduce downtime and improve quality and efficiency.

Modern BIM software, like Autodesk BIM 360, allows data to be easily shared between organizations and individuals. The key stakeholders of a construction project, from the architects to the engineers, the foremen to their workers, are all working from the same plan. Consistency is crucial for the effective construction of buildings and large infrastructure projects. AR's ability to present the data in a clear and straightforward manner makes for an ideal visualization platform.

While I'm by no means a BIM expert, I do have experience working closely with clients on augmented reality projects. My company maintains a specialized team of developers and designers who focus specifically on AR and VR mobile applications. This division has helped create applications for clients ranging from entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 companies. The only constant when it comes to AR applications is their forward momentum and drastic increase in quality and scalability as time goes on.

Don Austin, Zco's EVP, told me that augmented reality is only going to increase in importance: “Companies like Google are making huge strides in this area because AR makes data easy to visualize. There's value in using your phone like a lens to see data tailored to your location. Large organizations are looking at the tech and instantly recognizing how it could transform their business model. Even companies that might be averse to buying into cutting-edge tech are exploring AR.”

Curious about how companies are leveraging augmented reality in practice, I reached out to Microdesk. Microdesk is an international company whose collaboration with Autodesk has made them one of the foremost authorities and experts in the BIM solution space. I spoke with Peter Marchese, Microdesk's senior technical evangelist, about how AR has the possibility to shape and change BIM:

“I do believe that as [augmented reality] becomes more available, it will shape how the BIM data and information is used and consumed, especially on the construction and manufacturing side of things. I feel the real power of AR will be a boost to facilities and construction, especially when connected to real-time data from a connected IoT. It has the capability to make jobs safer, more efficient and productive, and the pilots that have used AR in manufacturing have proved these claims.”

When it comes to BIM-specific use cases, there are three that are the most prominent and provide value to organizations: conveying real-time maintenance information, increasing efficiency and accuracy of plans in the field and the ease of collaboration between key project members when drawing up construction plans.

Real-time maintenance data visualization provided through AR is one of the most useful use cases. Specialized hardware and software kits, like Daqri, allow users to look into a BIM-mapped building's walls in order to identify water pipes, wiring, HVAC components and more. For massive buildings and facilities, this technology is ideal for tracking down specific utilities for routine maintenance, replacement or to address issues if problems occur. Looking through a visor is much more intuitive than relying on conventional building plans or blueprints. Additionally, these kinds of products allow information to be updated in real time, enabling maintenance workers to log detailed notes or descriptions.

Another arena where AR is helping push forward BIM is on the job sites of projects that have begun construction. With just a tablet or a smartphone, engineers, labourers and supervisors are able to visualize elements of the project on demand. This ensures that collaboration between different on-site disciplines, like electrical and plumbing, are able to communicate and collaborate clearly and effectively. With BIM-backed AR apps, questions about what materials are being used, where, or how something should be installed, are addressed before any problems or conflicts arise.

The last element I want to discuss is the intuitive and accessible nature of AR-visualized BIM in the field. When BIM models are rendered through the lens of an AR application, it becomes a simple process of pointing your device where you want to inspect. When users are collaborating with people, clients or those not necessarily from engineering or construction backgrounds, this kind of visceral and immersive experience can help convey concepts that would otherwise be hard to express through conventional means.

AR apps backed by BIM data have many other applications and uses among industry specialists and consumers alike. Anecdotally, Zco regularly receives numerous inquiries from companies that are interested in these capabilities. However, I believe that this demand for AR-BIM applications goes well beyond those who have reached out to us. As companies like Microdesk, Autodesk and Zco continue to develop and deploy AR-BIM solutions, you can expect to see construction projects of all scales benefit from this revolutionary combination of powerful technologies.


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