Technology

Augmented reality app brings BIM to life in 3D

20 May 2014 | By Elaine Knutt

BIM software pioneer Seeable is launching a new twist on the BIM model – an app that allows 2D drawings to spring to life in virtual reality 3D on the surface of your iPad or smartphone.

Seeable is an offshoot of surveying and geomatics company Severn Partnership, which is using a “mash-up” of BIM and games engine technology to create easy-to-use apps and touchscreen interfaces for non-specialists.

Its new Augmented Reality app, officially launched at the GEO Business Show in May, utilises the built-in camera in every tablet and smartphone. When the app loaded on the device recognises an image in front of the camera, it generates a virtual 3D version of the image using “marker” technology

The camera detects certain features embedded in the image, then the app overlays this extra information on top of the real time images from the camera to create a 3D effect. In the photographs, the smartphone camera recognises a marker image printed on the back of a business card, creating a 3D version.

The app overlays this extra information on top of the real time images from the camera to create a 3D effect

Dave Heesom, currently on secondment to Severn Partnership from the University of Wolverhampton, explains: “It can recognise an image – here, it's on the back of a business card – and puts a 3D model on top of the tablet screen. We can also put the hidden 3D data onto paper plan drawings. 

“We’re at the first phase, which is to say we’ve got technology that works and has whizz bang appeal – it will wow the client. But in the background we’re developing it into a useful collaborative tool. The next product launch later in the year will allow a higher level of interaction between people using the AR app.

Seeable’s system was based on PhD research by the firm’s Nigel Moore at the University of Wolverhampton. It will be showcased alongside other company products at the show, which include Scan-to-BIM technologies and game-style BIM interfaces that allow non-specialists to navigate the model.

Moore told Construction Manager: “Plenty of BIM applications allow you to interact with the BIM model data, but they're technical, require learning and they become someone's job. But it should be an intuitive process, incorporating non-technical people.”

Mark Combes, managing director at Severn Partnership, said: “GEO Business is a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase our work and the products we have been developing to our industry peers. The GEO Business event will provide us with a brilliant platform to launch our new augmented reality app, using 3D and virtual reality to incite valuable feedback from other companies at the exhibition to enable us to improve the standard of service we provide our customers.”

But Seeable is not the only company to experiment with the “whizz bang” side of BIM. Delegates at the year’s Asta Development’s National User Forum at the British Museum in March saw similar technology for tablet devices developed by a Swedish BIM consultancy Plan B.

We’re at the first phase, which is to say we’ve got technology that works and has whizz bang appeal – it will wow the client. But in the background we’re developing it into a useful collaborative tool. – Dave Heesom, Severn Partnership