'Magic glasses' that would enable the wearer to 'peel back' the skin of a building and visualise the services and structure beneath are the dream of Arup R&D director Chris Luebkeman. And he says the technology needed to realise the dream, to create true 'augmented reality', is already out there.
'It's mostly been developed by the military - head-up displays, wearable computers, remote sensors and so on. If I had £1M, I would assemble a conference of experts from the military and civilian virtual reality researchers and see how the technologies could be adapted for construction.'
Luebkeman believes the technology exists to interface with computers and sensors via an apparently simple pair of glasses rather than the helmets and goggles currently used for virtual reality experiences. And he sees building maintenance as an obvious application. By linking the glasses by radio to a computer model of the building and to built-in sensors within its fabric, maintenance engineers would effectively get 'X-ray eyes'. They could locate faults, track down the source of cold drafts, even identify sections of overloaded wiring before a serious short occurs, all without the help of drawings or other equipment.
Luebkeman adds: 'Augmented reality technology would also enable clients to understand how buildings work in practice. The glasses could show stress concentrations, heat flows, air circulation, even the behaviour of people during emergencies. Engineers are good at designing things, but not so good at explaining how they work.'