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Microsoft targets construction with new HoloLens

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Use of mixed reality apps on construction sites has taken a practical step forward with the launch of Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 - the next generation of its wearable holographic computer.

Construction is high on Microsoft’s agenda and it has worked with software firm Bentley Systems to develop a construction-specific app.

Syncro XR takes data from a  project’s digital twin and visualises it through the HoloLens 2 via Bentley’s connected data environment, powered by Microsoft Azure.

With the mixed reality app, civil engineers and site workers can visualise planned work, check construction progress, identify site risks and access key data such as safety briefings. Users can interact with the model together and collaboratively experience 4D objects in space and time.

Microsoft says the new HoloLens 2 provides a far more immersive, instinctive and comfortable experience for first-line workers whose hands are occupied by physical tasks.

It says it has enhanced visual display quality enhanced with a lighter, easier to adjust headset. But changes in the way users interact with the headset are the biggest advances.

HoloLens 2 enables direct manipulation of holograms with the same instinctual interactions you would use with physical objects in the real world, rather than having to learn specific gestures. HoloLens 2 also contains an eye-tracking system that can sense when someone’s eyes land on a particular part of a work site and call up useful digital information about it. Words automatically scroll as they are read.

The Synchro software allows workers to zoom in on a particular location on the construction site and access important digital information, like safety guidelines or installation instructions. Site managers can see in three dimensions what the project is expected to look like two days or three weeks ahead — based on constantly changing realities and projections. This enables them to anticipate scheduling conflicts.

This could be done using a tablet computer, for example, but looking down to access information on a phone or tablet can be dangerous, said Noah Eckhouse, Bentley senior vice president for project delivery. HoloLens headsets allow workers to access digital information while remaining aware of their physical surroundings.

And while it might be possible to store and update plans for a two-bedroom bungalow on a single device, it would be impossible to track all the moving parts on a massive infrastructure project without the Cloud, Eckhouse added.

By connecting each HoloLens device on a job site to a onstantly updated master model updating in Azure, Synchro ensures that everyone works from the same shared reality, with the latest information to sequence jobs, plan crane movements, track progress and keep workers safe.

“The cloud connectivity is critical because in these large projects the amount of information going back and forth between the field and the engineers and designers is continual,” Eckhouse said. “And the consequences of working on infrastructure projects in the physical world are very real.”

“We are now in a place where this technology is solving real-world problems. You can really begin to see what this new wave of computing looks like and how it translates into real business outcomes, and I love that,” said Microsoft corporate vice president Julia White.

Bentley is Microsoft’s mixed reality partner, representing the architecture, engineering, and construction sectors.

Microsoft’s mixed reality partner programme is focused on enabling and supporting companies who are committed to building mixed reality systems. Microsoft provides training, technical assistance, sales and marketing assistance, and business planning.

HoloLens 2 will be available this year at a price of $3,500 (£2,675). It is also customisable, and long-standing HoloLens partner Trimble has already developed a hard hat solution that improves the utility of mixed reality for practical field applications.

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Today it has launched the Trimble XR10 with Microsoft HoloLens 2, a new wearable hard hat device that enables workers in safety-controlled environments to access holographic information on the worksite.

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