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X-ray vision for construction workers

X-ray vision for construction workers

Imagine if you had x-ray vision. Now imagine that you also have the ability to see what something would look like in the exact place it will be before it’s even built. Wouldn’t this be amazing, especially if you’re a construction worker?

Well, now it’s possible thanks to a mighty Waikato business.

BIM Holoview has invented an app run by software that works with Microsoft’s HoloLens to layer construction designs over each other. It’s a product especially designed for architecture, engineering and construction, and is specifically for onsite use.

The amazing thing is, when you wear the funny looking goggles – the HoloLens – and walk around a construction site you can clearly see where everything will be, to scale.

With the software, the HoloLens projects 3D holographic images of building information models (BIM) accurately onto construction sites, enabling visual verification of building plans by construction teams and sub-contractors.

The couple who invented the software, Heather and Peter Neil, recently spoke with The Waikato Story to share how it came about.

Their original business, which they still run, is security-focused Red Crater Software Solutions.

“That’s led us to have a lot to do with building services,” Peter said.

“What we saw when we were working for some of our customers was a heck of a lot of work when people are wanting to run cables or fix pipes. They’d be pulling things off the wall or be in the wrong spot and have to put it back again.”

The couple are always on the lookout for new technology and when they saw the Microsoft HoloLens it stuck out to them as a new opportunity.

“We thought it would be really good if we could give our customers x-ray vision. It would save so much time. We got into the process to take 3D models and overlap them into real buildings.

“Once we got into it we extended it a bit further. We realised that it’s probably of more use during the construction rather than when the building was in place because we became aware of the huge amount of cost involved in doing reworks. We thought if we could take the building model and overlay it into the real space then it would help mitigate some of those costs and risks.

“The goggles have been around for almost two years. Microsoft did a stage release just to the USA. When we saw the product and the potential we got some of our colleagues in the USA to bring them back to New Zealand. 

“That was three years ago, and we started working on our app in August 2016. We did a commercial release in 2017.”

Peter said it had been really good for sub-contractors because they’d been able to plan out their work.

There are two main software products that builders use - Revit and Navisworks. Designers plan out the buildings using those and then they export that into the BIM Holoview web service which enables them to download it onto the HoloLens.

“So, you just have to download the app and subscribe to the web service and then you are away. The web service is where you upload the models and it goes through a conversion process and then on the app you sign in and download your converted model and then position it onsite,” he said.

Heather said it was basically taking software that already existed for building plans, which could be difficult for some sub-contractors to understand, and enabling it to be seen onsite.

“That’s been a problem in the past for people using BIM, actually being able to take them out onsite. We are bridging that gap,” Heather said. 

Peter said the different trades could plan the work and while they were on site they could start feeding problems back to the design team to look at solutions.

“The people actually doing the work and the people designing are in a much closer loop,” he said.

Major construction company Hawkins has recently used the BIM Holoview software with the HoloLens on their construction site at the Park Hyatt in Auckland and, Heather said, they loved it.

“What would normally happen, for example, at the Park Hyatt, is they would have a portable communications office lined up outside and they’d tend to sit at an office desk with the design on their screen, they could pick that up and show the contractors and sub-contractors with their laptop, but it is often difficult to translate what you are seeing on a screen with what’s actually onsite.

“What they can do now is take the model onsite and see it through the HoloLens. 

“Our clients have discovered improvements they didn’t release they would. Hawkins said it’s been good as a tool to show the building owner as well, so the owner can visualise what the building is going to look like,” she said.

And although it has been designed to use onsite, it also has a desk top version, so you can put the whole model on the table and see what it’s going to look like.

Heather said they’d identified value, right from the CE down to the guys on the construction site.

Peter said when Microsoft first invented the HoloLens, they were really targeting towards the entertainment market.

“But when they released them, all the people in the construction market thought it was fantastic. What we’ve found, particularly in the construction industry, right across the globe, is they’ve said this is going to solve their problems and they got the HoloLens because they wanted to do overlay with their construction plans into the real space.

“There was a lag between getting the device and actually getting some of the software through that would actually allow them to do their job and that’s where we came in.

“We enabled the construction teams to have a tool that will allow them to use it onsite,” he said.

Now, BIM Holoview is servicing the world from right here, in the Waikato.

“Our two biggest markets are North America and Europe, but we service these customers remotely from the Waikato,” Peter said.

Heather said they couldn’t imagine wanting to live anywhere else.

“We like living here because it’s close to mountain biking, skiing and two coasts and we can still get to Auckland to do any business for a day trip and that’s really the only place we usually have to go.”

Peter said they do web-conferences to step customers through the initial use of the product.

“We are in the process of appointing a reseller in North America. We already have one that services the German speaking part of Europe, just to give us another speaker on the ground.

“We have 21 customers and some of them are rated in the top builders in the world and then we have smaller businesses as well.”

Peter said that while it was an initial investment to get a HoloLens it would, in the long run, save construction companies money.

“In a typical construction build, 5 percent is spent doing rework. What we estimate with our product, we should be able to reduce that 5 percent down to about 2.5 percent. It adds so much more communication to the teams and if you can see something going wrong it’s easy to fix it.

“To give an example, if a building costs $5 million to construct and five percent of that is $250,000 you can already see there is going to be a huge saving,” he said.

Heather said a company only needed one device to use within the organisation and they’re easy to learn to use.

“With the positioning and the accuracy, we’ve got it down to 2cm and that’s the most accurate out of any product in the world for this type of work. We don’t have that many competitors, but that is what sets us ahead of the rest,” she said.

Peter said the point was to get construction workers as close as possible to seeing what the work was going to look like.

“Because it’s mixed reality you can actually walk right around the space and see it from all perspectives.

“In terms of our challenges, a lot of people say it’s really cool, but they don’t think it’s appropriate for onsite use and I think one of the takeaways for potential users would be, it is. People are using it onsite. That’s what we built it for,” he said.

The goggles are safety rated and there are two providers of different helmet safety adapters, so they can clip onto a helmet and go onsite safely. 

“You can use it from beginning to end of the building process and then you can use it for further development or modifications later on,” Peter said.

Heather said it had been an adventure taking on such a big project, but it had opened up opportunities neither of them had even dreamed of.

“We spend a lot of time working with Microsoft because what we are doing is not something the HoloLens was really designed for – it’s really pushing the boundaries of it and they like to know what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. 

“We take on the world from an office in Matangi with really new technology. What’s cool about doing it in New Zealand is that Kiwis are really open to new technology and they get it,” she said.

For more information check out BIM Holoview's website here.

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