Technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that the past three years blur together when we consider the evolution of augmented reality [AR] and virtual reality [VR]. In fact, it’s advanced so quickly that just as GLY grew accustomed to using the term “AR/VR”, “XR” [eXtended or eXtra reality] replaced it to better represent the wide spectrum of tools and concepts that blend digital and physical reality.
As artificial intelligence [AI] and the internet of things advances, XR will allow digital content to interact with real life and vice versa. Imagine naturally conversing with Google’s Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana or Amazon’s Alexa as life-like digital avatars—not just the small speakers they are today. Prepare yourself because this scenario is not as far off as you might think!
What does XR’s advancement mean for construction? We asked Senior Project Engineer and XR lead Adam Cisler to give us the scoop. Where are we now? Where are we going?
Give us a glimpse into GLY’s XR journey.
GLY has come a long way since first introducing the low-cost Google Cardboard mobile VR viewer at the March 2015 monthly Project Manager/Project Engineer meeting. In just three years, we’ve implemented XR on projects in one way or another including: immersive architectural visualization, QA-QC, visual clash detection, context-based design variation or iteration review, estimating, owner/client walk-throughs, community engagement, fundraising, and work package review. Once equipped with only Google Cardboard, our in-house toolbox has gradually grown into a variety of AR and VR headsets, 360 degree cameras, and software solutions [apps].
XR hardware and software options change rapidly as tech companies release new features and applications for developer testing or consumer purchase. GLY is now in a position to test them against our body of knowledge with the XR landscape and analyze them against the productivity filters we’ve established.
Sure, we’re on a healthy path in XR adoption and application, but benefits are still emerging as they’re tied to each hardware and software advancement. We learn something new on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis!
Which projects or situations benefit most from XR?
Every project, regardless of scope or size, can benefit from XR. I’m working with engineers on projects large and small, and developing options to use XR at any scale. In just the last month, several solutions came on the market allowing us to optimize 3D model data to the point where we can view every layer of a high-rise or campus in AR or immersive VR from a phone, tablet, mobile VR viewer, or XR headset.
Most of the software I’m testing is also showing great promise. Despite the rapid advancements, we proceed with a cautiously optimistic validation process as we continue to learn and build confidence in these new companies.
What is the most useful XR tool for GLY?
AR is the most profound to date. The technology advanced quickly—from single position viewing using early AR apps on tablets, to self-contained holographic headsets that allow us to lock a model in place and walk around in it in the context of the jobsite.
We use AR on a case-by-case basis, drawing on our history with the technology in order to deploy AR experiences efficiently and effectively. In recent months, our AR usage got a huge boost from Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore. We can now leverage our headsets with these robust apps and share the AR experience of enhanced design review, on-site clash review, and X-ray vision to more participants from a phone or tablet.
Once data processing and optimization reaches a greater level of detail, AR applications will significantly reduce costly rework and increase jobsite productivity. Imagine seeing the rendering of a final product in the place of its future installment rather than just a massing or “for reference only” conceptual model.
Let’s switch gears. Where will XR in our industry be one year from now?
Well, a LOT can happen in that short timeframe. I predict:
- Increased and fine-tuned shared experiences—and co-located or distributed work sessions as affordable consumer AR devices come on the market—joining the consumer VR headsets already out there.
- Increased availability of true XR headsets as well as further optimization of complex 3D data sets in the cloud. This will allow us to peel away the opaque box of mystery that is the 3D model without having to pick and choose what to show due to limitations on file size or polygon/vertex count rendering.
- Increased X-ray vision experimentation.
- Integration of reality capture techniques and the processing of point clouds combined with 3D models in ways previously unattainable, thanks again to advancements in model optimization.
- Increased jobsite integration driven by XR usage across a higher number of projects and people [i.e. Foremen, Superintendents and Engineers].
- Headsets and components that make up XR hardware will miniaturize.
- Prices will drop and usage will spread fairly rapidly [in my opinion].
- Release of HoloLens Version 3 , which will have a new artificial intelligence co-processer.
- Other headsets debuting in 2018 or 2019 will integrate neural networks and natural language processing [AI based programming] and by 2022, we’ll see 2–3 iterations of those advancements.
- Further development of persistent augmented reality in 2018/2019, beyond the Pokémon Go geo-located experiences. In the next few years, don’t be surprised if we’re able to simply walk onto a jobsite, turn on any XR device, and see a 3D model of the building superimposed on top of the actual site.
- Improved jobsite productivity driven by XR usage across a higher number of projects and people [i.e. Foremen, Superintendents and Engineers].
Looking at the bigger picture, as soon as the hardware and software catches up to theories surrounding XR, we might see a major change in the way we interact with the digital world—possibly eliminating phones/screens as we know them now.
What might affect your predictions?
end of Moore’s law
As the exponential growth in the ability to miniaturize and fit more transistors onto a microchip comes to a halt [Moore’s Law], the rate at which technology advances may decline as well.
On the flip side, quantum computing could increase the rate of technology advancement—throwing my conservative predictions in the trash and replacing them with Black Mirror / Electric Dreams-type advances in robotics, AI and computer processing in general within the next 5-10 years.
In 2015, Google shared its progress on a quantum computer that is “100,000,000 times faster than a PC” and aimed for Quantum Supremacy by the end of 2017 [i.e. releasing a quantum computer that successfully solves a problem that would otherwise take a conventional computer “the lifetime of the entire universe” to solve]. While we’re still waiting for a completely working quantum computer, there are several announcements coming this year.
Is it difficult to get people on board with XR?
People are much more willing to hop on the XR ship today than they were three years ago. Solutions are better developed and there’s proof in the benefits. XR has been limited by the hardware: bulky stuff strapped to your face that’s cost-prohibitive for mass deployment. This will soon change given the release of improved applications for smart phones and tablets along with more cost effective headsets.
At this point, research and development is vital and we’re lucky to be a part of it. Convincing a firm to get on board with this aspect of XR [as opposed to just using the technology for its current benefits], isn’t always easy. However, this is the only way we’ll get exactly what we want. After testing products, I give honest feedback to the software companies, which helps them bring better products to market. In construction, the apps and software for creating and using XR need to be easy to use, integrate into our current workflows and bring value to the core work we do—construction.
We’re closer than we were three years ago. We now have intuitive software such as Revit add-ons that allow 1 button/1 click conversion of 3D files into immersive experiences; but there’s still work to be done. When discussing XR, I tell people not to get too attached to a product that takes too much time to learn how to use. If it distracts from our prime objective it will not be adopted or taken beyond the experimentation phase, period.
In the next couple of years, the learning curve of approaches to XR will drop and we will slowly move from research/experimentation into development of time-, cost- and quality-enhancing solutions that are easily deployed across multiple teams.
What attracted you to XR in the first place?
Simply put, I wanted to take the model off of the screen and place it in the world for a more experiential review.
What keeps you going?
Believing in it. Each new thing I learn confirms that XR is attainable and not something that only developers can access and work with. For those willing to put in the time, access to step-by-step tutorials and instructional videos are just a click away. I simply put in the time and pursued something I really believed in to get us where we are today.
Letting go. XR is complex. I don’t need to be able to do or understand every process. Similar to constructing a building, I can look out into the developer community, connect with those that DO understand the different aspects, and sub out a solution as needed.
Creativity. My job allows me to engage in productive artistic thought and experimentation. How cool is that? Creativity is key in order to think beyond what is currently possible.
Those “YES!” moments. I’ve had multiple defining moments with the technology over the last few years, convincing me of its value. Unfortunately, conveying results and benefits through PowerPoints or traditional media doesn’t give people the same wow-factor. I am now working with new mixed reality capture techniques to share the concepts that have me convinced. Stay tuned.
It feels like time is accelerating alongside the changes in our technological landscape, and the future feels closer than ever these days. William Gibson once said, “The future is already here—it's just not very evenly distributed!” With XR, I’m excited that we have the ability to participate and influence the trajectory.