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BIM, AR & wearable tech will grow owners' role

BIM, AR & wearable tech will grow owners' role

by RICARDO KHAN, Director of Integrated Construction, Mortenson

The international design and construction community has been going through an evolution that leverages new technologies to drive efficiencies that improve outcomes for project stakeholders. BIM is just one of the more disruptive technologies that the design and building industry has seen in a long time.

It's been over a decade now of increasing adoption of BIM in the international AEC market. The value proposition is heavily focused on the "making phase" of the buildings or facilities, while the promise of the "information" in BIM seems to be over-marketed to the end user and owner. In a study conducted at the 2014 Construction Owners of America Association's (COAA) Spring Leadership Conference, we heard that "BIM/VDC adoption is difficult" among the owner community.

If we dig a little deeper, though, a key "root cause" for this difficulty is that BIM and related technology does not make it easy for the people maintaining the facility to access the BIM data, or any of its promise. Currently, the only real tangible value to owners is using the BIM deliverable as a project record and as a starting place for future renovations. There are currently no other tangible incentives for owners to focus on the use of BIM during operations, especially if it isn't easily integrated into the natural workflow of operations and maintenance.

So what now?

  • What if it was "easy" to access the model and the "I" in BIM?
  • Why isn't it "easy" for owners and end users to leverage BIM?

This is where AR, Location Awareness, Wearables and BIM all intersect. The information in BIM will be truly realized when all these technologies mature and are somehow integrated. (By the way, this may be a reality in as little as two to five years. We're talking about Minority Report meets the Mortenson Halotable, meets Ironman's Jarvis.)

Below is a video clip that depicts a near future state that connects these technologies into a natural workflow. (Time frame 2:30 to 2:53)

Location Awareness

First things first. Location awareness is one of the key technologies that will enable this type of workflow and unlock the next step in BIM/VDC evolution. Location awareness refers to devices that can passively or actively determine their location.

This is already possible through GPS and related systems for cities and streets (macro). Heck, we all use Google Maps, right? However, at a smaller scale (micro), say within a building, the technology is still immature.

But devices like iBeacon and other location awareness technologies are becoming ever more affordable and applicable to everyday activities. This discussion can easily migrate into "The Internet of Things" where everyday objects, including your clothes one day will have sensors that interact with the surrounding environment. But I digress…

Fast forward to when location awareness is available and has enough accuracy (<10cm in x,y,z) to add value. As a facility operator, constructor or designer walks a building with a tablet, the BIM will react to its actual x,y,z position in the building, and auto-navigate the model just like in the video above. This workflow will then support access to the "information" in BIM so that the user can pull up relevant information about the room, equipment, or device as they walk the building.

AR in 2007

In 2006, we began experimenting with the idea of location awareness for construction as way to improve construction workflow. This was about the same time we began our Last 100 Feet case study. We were on the right track, but the timing was not. We relied solely on physical registration markers to connect model to real world coordinates. This video is a glimpse of our findings then with the help of an external contractor who developed location aware and simulation systems for far more important use cases… 

Augmented Reality

Once the micro location problem is solved, we can pair the model with the related information to real world coordinates. The next step would be to leverage augmented reality to overlay the 3D model and information. As in the video below, using the camera from your mobile device has a simulated affect, but AR will bridge the virtual with reality, driving one seamless experience or natural workflow.

Wearable Technology

One of the natural evolutions of AR is when it connects to everyday devices like eyeglasses (Google glasses or Daqri hard hat), window displays, computers and even contact lenses (ridiculous video link). Why walk around with a tablet when you can have a natural, hands-free experience that allows you to focus on the task at hand, and not have to be staring down at a tablet?

that's a wrap... for now

USER: Imagine just walking through a facility wearing your stylish AR eyewear as you enter a conference room. Your AR display is accessing the room calendar and knows there will be 15 people attending. You then look toward the environment sensor on the wall and the temperature is adjusted to meet the comfort needs of the room. Through simple gestures, the room climate control can be adjusted as desired.

OPERATOR: Imagine walking into the same conference room with your stylish AR eyegear. You quickly scan the rooms devices and all their operating measurements are green. Look up at the ceiling and as you scan the ceiling lights, one of them shows a ballast that signifies a replacement is on the near horizon. Through simple gestures, a work order is created and through the building information integration, the correct ballast type and recommended manufacturer supplier is notified. Just a simple task, done.

Connecting the technology dots may seem like wishful thinking, but it's not. The pace of technology advancement and development, and integration of these technologies all point toward a near future state that will soon be realized.

The question then is how can I get more involved?

As you read this, you may start to think about the current day BIM deliverable to an owner at the end of construction may just be a placeholder for now. As other emerging technologies evolve to continue connecting the dots, we may just eliminate the need for BIM in operations. Add reality capture, photogrammetry, object/edge recognition to the technologies touched in this post and that will be the next disruptive change to the built environment. Much more to come on that topic. Stay tuned!

What are your thoughts? I'm interested

Share what you are seeing and let us know if there are opportunities to work together to drive innovation in the industry. We are always looking into what's next and continuously improving what we do to deliver higher value to our customers.

Based in Minneapolis, the author is Mortenson's national director of integrated construction. He provides company-wide leadership of Virtual Design & Construction (VDC), driving efficiency and customer impact through the integration of technology into design, fabrication and installation. In this capacity, he oversees Mortenson's Integrated Delivery Advancement Team (IDAT), made up of over 60 VDC professionals who drive and support the use of virtual tools and technologies on projects. He can be reached at

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