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The Evolution of Wearables for the AEC, Part 2

The Evolution of Wearables
for the AEC, Part 2

by JAMES BENHAM, CEO, JBKnowledge Inc. | Sep 27, 2015

Three weeks ago, I wrote a brief intro to wearables devices, and why they’ll make a significant impact on the construction industry, especially when it comes to BIM. In this article, I’d like to continue the discussion on the subject and highlight some of the coolest wearable solutions our JBK Labs team has discovered, and why they’re not only cool, but incredibly applicable to today’s construction projects.

Wearables really fall into three categories: visual, sensory and tactical. Let’s start with visual solutions as those are the wearables that, thanks to Google Glass, most of the world is familiar with.

Epson Moverio: Augmented Reality glasses.

Epson Moverio: Augmented Reality glasses.

AUGMENTED REALITY GLASSES: With no visual indicator if the camera was on, Google Glass proved a risky social experiment and is no longer available to consumers. However, the research and development it produced will fuel Google in future endeavors and has fueled competitors like Epson Moverio to produce a more immersive augmented reality glasses experience with wider range of view. Then Vuzix came along and combined Moverio’s capabilities with the hands-free aspect of Google Glass. I don’t think anyone has really nailed the optimal augmented reality smart glass design but we’re getting there. Many other new providers in this space, like ODG, stand to make even more headway. Soon builders will walk through a job site and see the finished structure and environment data all through digital safety goggles, while transmitting data and media at the same time to a cloud solution.

  • On Oct. 22, JBKnowledge will host BuiltWorlds' first Demo Night: South event, located near the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station TX. For more, click here.
Oculus Rift: Your virtual ticket to ride.

Oculus Rift: Your virtual ticket to ride.

VIRTUAL REALITY HEADSETS: Less functional on a jobsite but more immersive than any visualization on screen, virtual reality headsets are changing the way builders interact with project plans. Oculus Rift VR headsets, combined with apps like SmartReality VR, allows users to put on a headset and essentially ‘leave’ the real-world. The headsets are fully immersive and interactive if combined with a sensor like the Leap Motion controller, redefining the notion of a job site walk through. In fact, the actual job site is not even needed.

     Microsoft Hololens: La crème de la crème.

     Microsoft Hololens: La crème de la crème.

MICROSOFT HOLOLENS: Then there’s the Microsoft Hololens, the cream of the crop right now, showing the best use case for visual interaction with a past, current, or potential project. It not only displays data for the wearer to feel completely immersed in the visualization but a 3D scanner collects data and interacts with the visualization. Shaping the virtual world of construction as the user interacts with it. Is your mind blown, yet? That’s why Microsoft calls it holograms and not augmented or virtual reality. Hololens is rumored for a mid-2016 release.

DAQRI SMART HELMET: The DAQRI smart helmet is a beast of a project that combines the functionalities of some of the best visual and sensory wearables all in one. With an augmented reality display that shows real-time data as it’s collected, the helmet could transform worker visibility, feedback and safety on the job site.

DAQRI is rumored for a late-2016 release.

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Now that we’ve got the helmets, goggles and/or sunglasses for your future jobsites, let’s talk about sensory wearable devices that can sense changes in environmental or human condition.

SMART WATCHES & HEALTH TRACKERS: If you haven’t heard of the Apple Watch by now, I would like to know under which rock you live because it must be an amazing spot. Smart watches are more fad than functionality as of now, but I imagine they will keep absorbing the functionalities of our everyday devices to become the ultimate hands-free, wrist dashboard. All in favor of ditching phones and laptops for something that computes automatically, intuitively and weighs quite a bit less? I thought so.

Microsoft Band: Current favorite.

Microsoft Band: Current favorite.

Health bands like the FitBit can also track worker heart rate, perspiration, temperature, and activity. Our current favorite for the job site is actually Microsoft Band because of its advanced sensor array and lower cost. Going one step further, the Myo armband can use that activity to manipulate the environment around it or to interact with smart glasses. Add in iBeacons around the job site and you’ve got environmental conditions and worker locations that can provide feedback indoors and in other areas if GPS falters.

SAFETY VESTS: Like DAQRI, technology innovators are researching how to improve the items that workers already wear instead of adding more to their work ensemble. At Virginia Tech, researchers are working on a safety vest for highway workers that alerts them of moving objects (like a confused car) approaching and can also adjust the volume of the alerts based on the noise already on the site. They’re also researching other ways to provide feedback and communicate job site conditions to those wearing the vest, through touch sensors or, for example, shrinking the cuff on the sleeves.

Vests of the future could also monitor a worker’s conditions like a health tracker, checking body temperature, perspiration, heart rate, etc. Consider this: What if they even incorporated structure sensor technology from solutions like Google’s Project Tango so that smart vest wearers can also orient themselves within the jobsite? (Need that DAQRI helmet so your head stops exploding?)

Those are just a few of the solutions that get me and my JBK Labs R&D team excited about the future. In my next blog, we’ll cover tactical wearable devices --like exoskeletons-- that are less about providing visual enhancement or sensory feedback and more about helping workers to perform physical actions.

What other wearable technologies are you hearing about? Which ones are your company experimenting with? I encourage you all to tinker, whether at work or on your own, and to stay up-to-date on what’s available and what’s coming. Don’t be the one with a bike helmet on a job site full of DAQRIs.

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Based in Bryan/College Station TX, the author is CEO of JBKnowledge Inc., a founding member of the Construction Open Software Alliance, an acclaimed speaker and technologist, and a consultant to AGCCFMA, and the MCAA.

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