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AR technology superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view to create a composite view

By animating data over real-world scenes, augmented reality (AR) is poised to revolutionize the construction, engineering, and architectural industries.

What makes us different?

Unlike virtual reality, which fully immerses users in an entirely computer-generated world, augmented reality works by creating interactive overlays displayed over the real world. At its core, augmented reality simply adds a layer of digital information over the physical world. This digital information can be nearly anything, from video game characters to plumbing and wiring blueprints to full-scale, three-dimensional models of structures and more.

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What is AR?

Augmented reality grew exponentially in popularity with the enormous success of the mobile app Pokemon GO; players would use the cameras on their smartphones to “see” and interact with fictional creatures in the real world around them. Images of the characters would appear on screen over the image captured by the camera, making it appear as if the creatures were actually in the player’s world.

But augmented reality isn’t just for fun and games. By using the same technology, AR can be used to project a myriad of data over a real-time, real-world situation. Data has become the pulse of our modern, connected world. For contractors, architects, and builders, data has never been more important than it is today. With augmented reality, we can work in the field with constant access to any contextual information we may need as soon as we need it, making any project much simpler and more precise.

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How does AR work?

Because the aim of augmented reality is not total immersion, it relies on visualization, and sometimes analysis, of the real, physical world around the user. By determining where the user is in the world, what is around them, and what they see, AR augments their perception with data, in the form of computer-generated images, 3-D models and renderings, or even sound. Today, the tools needed to produce an AR experience are built into the smartphones and tablets we use everyday. Using the camera to capture real-time visual information and sensors like gyroscopes, GPS or point-cloud systems, accelerometers, and compasses, AR software and apps can analyze the physical world and create interactive, digital overlays visible to the user.

AR is also accessible through the use of head-mounted devices (HMDs), like those used to create virtual reality experiences. However, AR headsets must allow for visibility of the physical world, and do not separate the user from physical reality entirely. With hardware like the Microsoft Hololens and Google Glass, companies are working to make AR more streamlined, functional, and user-friendly. Rather than holding a smartphone or tablet in your hands, these wearable devices augment the physical reality that users see or hear, wherever they are in the world. By freeing up the hands, this technology allows access to contextual information at anytime, even while the hands are occupied. As AR hardware and software evolve, they’re already making a major impact on the ways we interact with data.

AR Applications

The practical applications for augmented reality in architecture, engineering, and construction are limitless. With computer-aided drafting, digital design, and building information modeling (BIM) technologies, the plans, data, and other relevant information necessary for industry professionals can be displayed in real-time wherever the user is looking. When an engineer enters a building to complete repairs, data from repair or instruction manuals can be visible directly over the systems they’re repairing. Several engineers can use AR technology to collaborate on a design or repair remotely. An architect can visualize a new skyscraper, bridge, or other structure before construction even begins, determining the best placement for details or the visual impact a structure will have on the surrounding area. City planners can use AR to determine the best route for a new road or freeway, visualizing real-time data about traffic flows and patterns while out in the field.

While visualization is one of the major points of AR, AR technology can also be used to augment the sounds around us. Architects can use this technology to determine what materials would be best suited to dampen or amplify sound. On a busy street, they can analyze what works best to block out the sounds of traffic and pedestrians in front of an office building, or how ceiling height and structural elements will impact the acoustics of a concert hall. AR also has enormous potential in areas of project safety and security. Using an AR system, workers can see otherwise hidden wiring in a building to avoid making hazardous and costly accidents. Placement of gas and water pipelines can be displayed over the physical world to help direct equipment when digging. Construction professionals can see what the architect had in mind when designing a building while they’re working, preventing mistakes that waste time and money to go back and correct.

Using AR connects every person working on a project, from the beginning stages of planning to the final stages of construction, and even into continued maintenance and repairs after the project is completed. Shareholders can see the project they’re investing in with a full-scale, three-dimensional model in real-time before work is finalized. Augmented reality allows for a consistent, stable workflow from start to finish in all aspects of any architecture, construction, or engineering project.

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Adding AR to Your Workflow

Because AR changes our perception of the world around us without full immersion, adding AR elements to your workflow is fairly simple, comfortable, and efficient. While some training and practice may be required to fully master the intricacies of augmented reality, most simple functions are extremely user-friendly. Incorporating AR elements into your tasks and processes, no matter what part of a project is your specialty, has never been simpler than it is with INDBIM. We have augmented reality solutions for any business in the architecture, construction, or engineering industries. Consult with our BIM and AR experts to determine the best course of action for your specific needs and desires, and add AR to your toolbox.

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