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Holograms offer sci-fi glimpse of AEC future

Holograms offer sci-fi glimpse of AEC future

by ANGIE MANSFIELD, FieldLens | May 25, 2015

Imagine the benefits of being able to clearly visualize building plans as a 3D hologram. Some future-thinking companies are taking advantage of the current capabilities of hologram technology to help make this idea a (virtual) reality.

Before we continue, we should clear up the confusing use of the word “hologram.” The dictionary definition is a 3D image formed by the interference of light beams from a laser, or a photograph of a light field that produces such an image—like the security sticker on the back of your Visa card. Wikipedia sticks to the strict definition, and also offers a list of Things often confused with holograms. But these days, companies are applying the word “hologram” to all sorts of screen technologies, from 3D virtual-reality software to life-size projections of dead entertainers. You can expect people to call anything a “hologram” if it tricks your eye into seeing a 3D object that’s not really there.

First impression: For many, the image of a hologram dates back to the 1977 sci-fi film Star Wars, aka "Episode IV".

First impression: For many, the image of a hologram dates back to the 1977 sci-fi film Star Wars, aka "Episode IV".

Here are two ways hologram technology is being used to help visualize the built environment:

3D Holographic Renderings of BIM Plans

This technology isn’t exactly new to construction. One of the leaders in this field is Texas-based Zebra Imaging. Originally developed for military applications, their holographic images shifted to the construction world back in 2009. The company uses thin photographic film that’s flexible enough to roll up. When 3D plans are printed on it, they reflect light in a way that makes the images seem to jump off the page.

Like other 3D printing technology, this allows designers to “drop” a proposed building into its future surroundings. Potential problems and conflicts with neighboring structures can be spotted and solved before ground is ever broken.

Now, there’s an even newer kid on the holographic technology block, and it has great potential for the construction industry.

HoloLens: Adding Holograms to the Real World

Now we’re getting full-on sci-fi! Microsoft’s new HoloLens places the 3D imaging into a combination headset and visor. This gives wearers an augmented reality view of their surroundings – which means you can walk around your jobsite wearing these glasses, and see how your building will look once it occupies the space.

That’s not its only advantage over static 3D holographic printouts. The headset can also scale objects in real time and add details to existing projects – so you can see a project grow before you’ve even started the physical building.

Even better? The devices can connect with each other, so architects can share their vision of the project with you from across the country, making collaboration a far faster and smoother process.

So, while we may not be able to build an entire fantasy world in a holographic room (hurry up, science!), the future of construction still has a sci-fi feel.

The author is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the FieldLens blog, Building Better. 

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