Star Trek-like construction technology
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Imagine yet another meeting to discuss the new building you’ve been hired to design or construct. But, instead of just sitting around looking at 2D plans and trying to “see” what it will look like, you all take out your tablet or smartphone. You fire up an application, point the camera at the plan and immediately are able to visualize a 3D building information model of what the building – or building component -- looks like from your perspective.

Augmented reality construction technology

Move the camera around a bit to look at the roof or through the windows. Strip off the cladding and see the structural steel, the heating and ventilation conduits and then decide the best locations to run the networking cables to avoid clashes. And do it all from the comfort of a climate controlled room instead of the dusty plot of land where the building will be.

Do all your planning, let owners, architects, engineers and contractors see that building, add input to the design process and gain a real understanding of what will be before even putting a shovel in the ground.

That’s what James Benham, CEO of JBKnowledge spoke about last week in a webinar hosted by BIMForum. His company has developed an application that renders a model onto your tablet or smartphone. You simply point your device at the plan, the camera see its and the app recognizes it and then overlays the 3D building information model on it. You can even see how this works at SmartReality.co, a website of Benham’s.

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Carry the augmented reality a bit further and bring your tablet into the now-completed structure. Point it at a QR code or sensor in a door jamb, for example, to bring up a geo-based laser scan of the as-built area, so you can determine exactly where to open a wall, ceiling or floor to add or remove a particular element or use it to pull up the user manual for a particular piece of equipment that needs maintenance. Or, let the heavy-equipment operators use it. They can strip away the building to its foundation and footprint and know exactly where to start digging. Or let project managers manage their projects, see the progress and highlight any issues.

Virtual reality construction technology

Oculus Rift Robyn beck/AFP/Getty Images

Now, go even further into this real-life StarTrek scenario, and add a piece of wearable technology.  Strap a pair of large, weird goggle-like glasses to your head and bring the model up to full scale. Real reality is gone and you’re transformed into the model, where you can see, sense and feel. You can “walk” through the building, open a door, look out a window, and experience how large or small a room  is.

You might decide your concept doesn’t work. Others might decide it’s not exactly what they had in mind. Or, perhaps you’ll blow them away.

Benham: Construction technology components with the most promise

The takeaway for AEC pros

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"Remodeling will be fundamentally transformed," says Benham. "The ease of use to create documentation will be staggering ... and a lot of [what you need] will be passively collected images and video. We will have terabytes of collected data of 3D models, photos and videos, all Geo-referenced."

“Taking model from workstation to a mobile device democratizes BIM in a big way,” Benham concludes.