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Augmented reality: For High Concrete, smart glasses reveal a better picture

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Rob Heagy, director of drafting services at High Concrete Group LLC, looks at an augmented reality model through a Microsoft HoloLens.
Rob Heagy, director of drafting services at High Concrete Group LLC, looks at an augmented reality model through a Microsoft HoloLens. - (Photo / )

The error could have been overlooked on paper.

But the architect was able to spot it through a HoloLens headset, a pair of smart glasses developed and manufactured by Microsoft.

The augmented-reality device was showing the architect a proposed pedestrian bridge at Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia. What he noticed was a sheltered horizontal concrete surface that would have attracted roosting birds.

Where there are birds, there is residue, which can cause permanent stains, said Thomas Beam, 3D building information modeling specialist at High Concrete Group LLC, which was working with the architect to design the bridge.

“That is why you typically see small spikes in areas to deter bird nesting,” Beam said.

The architect caught the error because the glasses showed him the bridge in 3D.

Had they not caught the error before the bridge was built, the customer would have had to pay more to add another material to keep the birds away.

High Concrete, a subsidiary of High Companies in East Lampeter Township, was able to make a change prior to the concrete pieces being poured in place, Beam said.

The company purchased the Microsoft HoloLens two years ago, but only started heavily using it in the past year, Beam said. Augmented reality adds digital elements to a live view.

“We wanted to give our customers an enhanced experience in seeing their projects,” Beam said.

The HoloLens headset ranges from $2,000 to $5,000. High Concrete purchased the developer’s version for $5,000, Beam said, noting that it has given High Concrete a competitive edge

Not only does the HoloLens improve customer experience, it also helps Beam and his colleagues be better design partners, Beam said.

On any given project, High Concrete usually works with three different people: an architect, a general contractor and a project owner.

Even an architect, who knows how to read contract drawings, still gets a clearer idea of what Beam and his colleagues are delivering by using the headset.

It also benefits the general contractor, who may not be able to visualize the project as well as an architect.

And lastly it helps the project owner, who may not be able to visualize the project in 3D space.

“This allows us to show them exactly what that project would look like,” Beam said.

The HoloLens offers a view of the structure, as well as the texture and finish of the concrete, Beam said.

In the future, Beam hopes to see augmented reality being used in production and quality control.

“We would be able to project a piece right in the form as a one-to-one scale and be able to check to insure that we are placing all of the hardware and reinforcements in the correct location,” Beam said.

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Shelby White

Shelby White covers banking and finance, law and Lancaster County for the Central Penn Business Journal. For tips, email her at swhite@cpbj.com.

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