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Bentley and Microsoft up the ante on mixed reality

27 February 2019 | By Denise Chevin

Bentley Systems has teamed up with Microsoft to enhance its mixed reality offering for architecture and construction applications.

Microsoft announced HoloLens 2, the second iteration of its mixed reality headset, at Mobile World in Barcelona. Alongside this Bentley presented SYNCHRO XR, its app for immersively visualising 4D construction digital twins with the new HoloLens.

Selected as a Microsoft mixed reality partner representing the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry, Bentley demonstrated how with SYNCHRO XR for HoloLens 2, users can interact collaboratively with digital construction models using intuitive gestures to plan, visualise, and experience construction sequencing.

Project digital twin data is visualised with the HoloLens 2 via Bentley’s connected data environment, powered by Microsoft Azure. With the mixed reality solution, construction managers, project schedulers, owner operators, and other project stakeholders can gain insights through immersive visualisation into planned work, construction progress, potential site risks, and safety requirements.

Additionally, users can interact with the model together and collaboratively experience 4D objects in space and time, as opposed to traditional interaction with a 2D screen depicting 3D objects.

Noah Eckhouse, senior vice president, project delivery for Bentley Systems, said: “Our SYNCHRO XR app for HoloLens 2 provides a totally new way to interact with digital twins for infrastructure projects. Users benefit from a new perspective on the design and a deeper, more immediate understanding of the work and project schedule.

“Instead of using a 2D screen with a mouse and keyboard, the user can now walk around the model with their body and reach out and grab digital objects that appear to co-occupy physical reality. This is a powerful way to review work that is completed and to prepare for upcoming work at the jobsite.”

HoloLens 2: Microsoft’s new mixed reality headset

Menno de Jonge, director of digital construction for the Royal BAM Group, said, “We are currently using SYNCHRO and HoloLens 2 mixed reality solution for the construction site for a large museum project in the city of Rotterdam.

“The real need for a digital transformation in our industry is about avoiding rework at our construction site. Using this technology, we can easily visualize the construction schedule. Then, we can see if we are behind in schedule, we can flag any potential problems or issues, look into the problems, and get back on track.”

Alex Kipman, technical fellow, AI and mixed reality at Microsoft, said: “The newly announced Microsoft HoloLens 2 is a self-contained holographic computer that enables hands-free, heads-up interaction with digital models.

“We’re excited to work with Bentley, a mixed reality partner, to provide the opportunity for customers to take advantage of the HoloLens 2 and SYNCHRO XR technology to experience a new dimension of creativity and teamwork for their AEC projects.”

Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Partner Program is focused on enabling and supporting solution providers who are committed to building mixed reality solutions. Upon acceptance to the program, Microsoft provides training, technical assistance, sales and marketing enablement, and business planning. 

Unveiled by CEO Satya Nadella, the HoloLens 2 boasts an expanded field of view and a massively increased optical resolution, jumping from roughly 720 pixels to 2K resolution per eye. That allows for far more detailed holograms to be displayed and for users to see them from broader angles, rather than having to remain focused on very specific points.

The headset is also lighter than its predecessor – made from carbon-fibre materials and with a re-balanced centre of gravity – and more comfortable, with an easier to adjust fit. The design allows users to wear prescription spectacles underneath, with the visor sliding over them, and features improved cooling, making it suitable to wear for extended periods.

Morgan Sindall Group, which  was an early adopter of HoloLens tech, using it in the development of the new Barbara Hepworth Building at the University of Huddersfield and to trial mixed reality installation checks told wired magazine.

“[HoloLens] version one has already driven efficiencies in the way we design and build schemes, and it holds great promise for the wider construction industry,” said Lee Ramsey, director of digital construction at Morgan Sindall. “But we’d like to see Microsoft release a toolkit to enable users to bring models into the device, without coding or gaming engine knowledge.”