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Soluis and Crossrail to test smart helmets on site in Innovate UK trial

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Digital visualisation company Soluis is set to carry out on-site tests of “smart helmets” on a Crossrail site in London – a first for the UK construction industry.

Glasgow-based Soluis has been awarded £35,000 from Innovate UK, as one of the winners of its IC Tomorrow contests, to develop software that will allow augmented reality (AR) to be utilised on site.

Over the next nine months, Soluis will be working with Crossrail to build and test an app that will allow construction site staff to both access and upload BIM data via the smart helmet’s “heads-up” visor display.

Called “In-site”, the new app will be able to pull information about buildings or structures from the cloud to the helmet and then overlay it as augmented reality on workers’ visor screens.

Although Soluis was unable to confirm the brand of smart helmet to be utilised in the trial, it has an established relationship with Los Angeles-based Daqri, after winning a Daqri Hackathon event in Dublin in August

Martin McDonnell, chief executive of Soluis, told BIM+ that he believes the app is a key step towards allowing AR to be used on site, and in turn achieving the full benefits of BIM.

He said: “I’m believe that this is the first time that a smart helmet will have been used on a construction site in the UK and I believe it’s the first time in the world. With In-site we aim to realise the promise of BIM and leverage the value of BIM.

“The app will identify an asset, pull down information from the model and then push back a status report to the model.

“The helmet and software allows AR to be hands free and heads up, which is essential when utilising the technology on a potentially dangerous site,” he continues.

The project will focus on two areas: understanding the user experience of a construction worker wearing a smart helmet, as at present there is little research into how workers will communicate with the helmet; and building software to connect the multi-digital assets that may contain information about a project to the helmet.

Although this project represents another step towards AR and BIM being used on site, McDonnell believe that it will still be several years before the technology will be widely adopted.

He said: “We are getting into the useful phase for virtual reality with real world uses in gaming and in the business world, but we are still a couple of years behind with AR. Effectively what we are doing with this project is proving that there is a value in using AR on the construction site.

“The concept and potential value of AR is reasonably well understood in the industry, however how we actually get AR on site is the hard bit. To do this we need a wearable and hands-free system and building this capability into equipment most site operatives are already working with makes sense. Once we do this I have no doubt that there will be demand,” he concludes.

According to a Daqri spokeswoman, its smart helmet has been extensively trialled by aerospace manufacturer Boeing, and prototype versions are also in use by a number of engineering and construction “early adopters”.

Daqri has positioned itself as the smart helmet for industrial applications, while the Lifebeam Smart Helmet is pitched towards defence and military uses. There are also a number of smart helmets aimed at motorcyclists. 

We are getting into the useful phase for virtual reality with real world uses in gaming and in the business world, but we are still a couple of years behind with AR. Effectively what we are doing with this project is proving that there is a value in using AR on the construction site.– Martin McDonnell, chief executive, Soluis