The AEC industry is ripe for disruption by Augmented Reality. I recently gave a "Pecha Kucha"-style presentation about Augmented Reality at the Autodesk XSummit, where I provided a brief overview and history of AR through the lens of AEC. (My co-presenter, Joel Pennington, looked to the future, where AR platforms will empower the next generation of designers and makers.) Below is a loose transcript of portions of that presentation… enjoy!
Inspiration for AR comes from a variety of sources, from heads-up displays in the military, to the great science fiction stories of the 20th century; from the first industrial uses in manufacturing, to video-overlay AR in sports broadcasting. Augmented Reality has captured the imaginations of people seeking a better interface for designing and creating.
Let's be clear: AR is not VR. Unlike Virtual Reality, which fully immerses participants in an artificial environment, AR enhances the experience of the real world by incorporating contextual information when and where it is needed. By mixing the real and the virtual, AR will be more integrated into our everyday lives than VR, and a much larger market opportunity.
A key characteristic of AR is the spatial overlay of digital information on the physical world. AR is ideal for making comparison. Remember these puzzles? They challenged us with: "Spot the eight differences," but in the real world, we're asked harder questions, like: "Are there any differences, and if so, how many?" AR can help.
There are two kinds of AR hardware interfaces: displays for the head and displays for the hand. In the last decade, both form factors have evolved, from customized to commoditized. The broad availability of head-mounted displays, mobile phones, and AR-ready tablets, allows companies like Autodesk to focus on making software tools for AR.
For professionals in manufacturing and AEC, AR fits well into a lean story. Lean is about providing the right "stuff" to the right people, in the right place and time. AR is a technology that supports this approach, providing the right information in the right place.
History of AR in Construction
Let's look at the development of AR since the turn of the century, as applied to construction. The "Magic Book" was a landmark project that introduced and popularized the use of black square, optical markers for tracking virtual objects. It featured the first published AR construction documents, complete with pictures, text, and mixed reality experiences to guide the assembly of a chair.
Since that humble beginning, the construction industry has become enamored by AR. We've had prototype projects, demonstrating accurate wall framing without a tape measure, with a mobile projector as an "AR flashlight." That led to AR on active construction sites, with large-scale markers and ruggedized tablets to visualize building components like a staircase in context and at full scale.
AR in AEC Today
Today, each party in the AEC industry uses AR in different, but complementary, ways in the lifecycle of a building. AR enables owners, architects, and contractors to compare the as-is, the as-intended, and the as-built conditions, and they're doing so with a variety of software. We must extend our every-day BIM tools to include AR, in order to support this cycle, and remain competitive in the AEC market.
For example: architects use AR to visualize their designs in context, whether displayed full scale on a project site, or scaled-down onto physical study models. Designers are also using AR to support in-person, collaborative design reviews.
AR gives anyone on a project team easy access to data-rich models regardless of their experience with BIM tools. Contractors are now using AR for rapid, intuitive layout and installation without paper drawings or survey equipment. They also use it for quality control, to understand where work may be installed incorrectly.
Finally, for building owners, a promising use case for AR is the "ultimate stud finder," to reveal hidden construction conditions. They also use AR for facilities maintenance, overlaying meta-data on building equipment and systems to get status updates in real-time. There is no shortage of software tools we should enhance with AR, to provide AEC professionals a complete 21st-century software ecosystem.
AR for AEC Tomorrow
The next generation of designers and makers – and, make no mistake: they are coming to replace us – will have much higher expectations, and lower tolerance, for human-computer interfaces that behave and respond intuitively. In the near future, it will not be sufficient to "bolt on" an AR module or functionality to our software tools, but rather reinvent them entirely as AR platforms that support design and making at its core.
Even as Augmented Reality becomes a household name, the current state of AR leaves much to be desired. There is a time and a place for everything, and AR is a vital piece of delivering the right information in the right place. The AEC industry is begging for AR solutions, the hardware to support AR is within reach. Autodesk and its customers must collectively demand and invest in augmented reality. If you don't, someone else will!