Microsoft’s new mixed reality initiatives tap power of HoloLens

Mundane tasks are being sped up thanks to HoloLens

Late last year, Microsoft announced the launch of Trimble's SketchUp Viewer for its HoloLens headset, which would allow for 3D images designed in SketchUp to be viewed in a more life-like scenario. The Viewer is just for viewing models but is done on a flat monitor. With HoloLens, the models appeared real. 

Since then, Microsoft has been working with Trimble and the Construction Information Technology Lab at the University of Cambridge to expand on use of HoloLens and mixed reality technology in the architecture, engineering, construction and operations (AECO) industries. 

Today, the Microsoft announced details of two new trials that are underway at Cambridge. The first is Automated Progress Monitoring, a way to address routine maintenance and inspection of remote structures. It can be a laborious, time consuming and error-prone procedure, one where automation can replace humans because machines don’t get sloppy. 

The process consists of visual inspections, filling out forms and writing reports. The new process speeds things up by presenting all physical and digital information through HoloLens, allowing inspectors to check, cross-reference and report on inspections quickly, and collaborate with site representatives. 

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The second trial focuses on a more specific inspection task: Automated Bridge Damage Detection. Instead of sending structural engineers to each bridge as part of routine inspection, high-resolution images can be taken by local teams and sent to inspection engineers. These are then automatically mapped onto 3D models of the respective bridge. Structural engineers can then review the integrity of a bridge in mixed reality using HoloLens, making recommendations for repairs or other preventative measures. 

While virtual reality gets most of the hype, augmented reality (AR), or mixed reality, has the most practical use. It allows for overlaying computer-generated images onto real-world objects, providing visual guidance when working on a complex piece of machinery or allowing for up-close inspections like the bridge examination. 

This is hardly the first instance. Japan Airlines used Google Glass at its Honolulu base to do inspections, letting people back in the main office see what ground crews saw up close with the airplanes. With Glass falling out of favor, JAL has since switched to HoloLens. 

Car maker Volvo uses HoloLens extensively in its car buying experience, letting people get up close and personal with the internals of a car without ever touching one. Not that I need to see the drive train of a car before buying it, but the option is there. 

AR will continue to be the more practical use for these headsets, and Microsoft is doing quite a bit of work in that field.

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