Q&A: Trimble’s Aviad Almagor – Moving forward with mixed reality

Stephen Cousins speaks to Aviad Almagor, director of the mixed reality programme at Trimble, on the benefits of HoloLens and Google Tango, and work to integrate IOT and sensors into immersive environments.

Everyone’s talking about Microsoft HoloLens, but what are the benefits for construction?

HoloLens enables users to interact with 3D holograms blended into the real world. This can help eliminate workflow inefficiencies related to the interpretation of digital content and its translation into real world objects, which is heavily dependent on the user’s spatial understanding.

Our physical world is finite, but mixed reality presents an opportunity for an infinite environment in which additional data, such as schedule, specs, and simulation can be overlaid onto the world, creating a hyper-reality environment.

Trimble’s SketchUp Viewer app enables architects and designers to view and interrogate projects in HoloLens. How was it developed?

We started our mixed reality research about two years ago and quickly saw that the technology was mature enough to provide real value to customers in a commercial product. In April 2015 we teamed up with Microsoft and presented the first proof of concept for mixed reality in construction.

Together, we launched a pilot programme with companies such as Aecom in the UK, and Gensler in the US, to identify different use cases and what the technology can support – such as design review processes, or communicating internally, or with customers.

In April 2016, architect Greg Lynn used HoloLens to design his contribution to the US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and allowed visitors to the Pavilion to experience his design in mixed reality.

The most recent stage in this journey was the launch of Trimble’s SketchUp viewer for the HoloLens.

What’s next on the horizon?

A major recent advance is the realisation of multi-user environments, so a group of people, either co-located or remote, can visualise the same holographic content.

We are working on two mixed reality products, for construction management and facilities management, which are close to maturity.

One very interesting area is how mixed reality can be integrated with other technologies, such as the Internet of Things and sensors. 

In mining, we have a commercial product that enables HoloLens users to visualise and control mine operations from the office. The system uses data from Trimble scanners in the open pit mine to automatically update a 3D model, projected as a hologram on the tabletop.

Users are able to visualise all assets in the mine almost in real time, including information about where materials are being transported and stored etc, using data from sensors installed on machinery.

Some of these features could transfer over into architecture and design, especially on heavy civils projects with large sites. I also see it being used by facilities management teams, connecting to databases of IoT information for use by the engineer.

Trimble is also working with Google Tango, Daqri and Metavision, why the hardware-agnostic approach?

We want to ensure we are able to address any kind of use case, whether it is a matter of budget, outdoor/indoor use, form factor or personal preference. For example, some people don’t want to wear a computer on their head, which is where the Tango tablet-based technology might fit in.

It seems that BIM environments, with their focus on data and geometry, should translate well into mixed reality…

There’s a great match between the two, the more you invest in your BIM models the more value you will get out of mixed reality. BIM is all about information, in mixed reality you should be able to click on an object and visualise any information related to it, such as dimensions, material, cost or schedule info. 

What are the current limitations of mixed reality?

More work is required to enable real-time updates, so the architect or engineer on site can change something in the model and immediately see the impact on the projection in mixed reality. Achieving this is just a matter of time and developing the right workflow to support it.

Another area related to this is the ability to easily consume 3D models in the field. We are progressing this through our construction management solution that enables the HoloLens device to download models from cloud storage.

We believe that to bring the technology to a wider audience there needs to be greater support for “one click” mixed reality so with a simple click of a button software content is immediately available in a mixed reality device.

What impact will mixed reality have in 10 years?

On the commercial side it is a safe bet that it will have penetrated almost every industry Trimble serves, including AEC, facilities management, mining, geospatial and agriculture. Anywhere where you need to present data in context could benefit. The technology will impact every aspect of our lives, not just the professional side.

We will reach a point where the value of content is no longer based on whether it is virtual or real, but on how well it is able to support a task.

We expect the form factor of devices will be different, probably smaller and easier to wear. It may be the case that a contact lens becomes the mixed reality device.

In mining, we have a commercial product that enables HoloLens users to visualise and control mine operations from the office. The system uses data from Trimble scanners in the open pit mine to automatically update a 3D model, projected as a hologram on the tabletop. – Aviad Almagor, Trimble

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