As immersive technologies like augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) continue to advance, many business leaders recognize the value of these tools as fundamental elements for visualizing complex data and supporting more information-rich experiences. 

The term “mixed reality” generally refers to solutions that merge real and virtual worlds to display an environment where physical and digital components interact in real time. Industry analysts and insiders refer to them as mixed reality solutions because they incorporate augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and the real world using immersive technology. Innovative MR solutions present an image of the real environment overlaid with holographic data from a 3D model.

Beyond consumer applications like those offered in the gaming and entertainment industries, industrial and commercial markets such as manufacturing, military, construction, architecture and engineering are also pushing MR solutions into the mainstream. Examples of MR technologies being used today include Microsoft HoloLens, a wearable device that maps the environment and adds digital content, Windows Mixed Reality platform, and Google ARCore and Apple’s ARKit, which are the platforms that the applications are being developed on. To create more immersive experiences, developers are working feverishly on advancements like eye tracking capabilities and gesture control. Microsoft HoloLens, for instance, enables users to use natural gestures, such as clicking with fingers, pinching the screen or moving objects on the screen, to interact with data.

Fitting within current workflows

MR solutions integrate digital content with the physical world to provide an enriched perspective of coexisting environments. By removing the constraints of 2D screens, MR solutions are enabling those in the Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) industries to support complex modelling processes and improve opportunities for collaboration across a project. The measure of whether these evolving MR solutions will continue to advance is their ability to fit within a contractor’s existing workflow and “play nice” with design packages and tools that contractors are currently using, like Navisworks, Revit, Fusion, Tekla, SketchUp and others. .

Trimble Connect for HoloLens is an excellent example of these applications working hand-in-hand. The hardware and software together enable users to view models that have been published to their HoloLens device via the Trimble Connect application from the Microsoft Store. The application links to project models stored on Trimble Connect, a cloud-based collaboration platform.

By providing the precise alignment of holographic data and combining digital models with the real world, contractors can accurately show how design elements, such as ductwork, will interact with existing conditions. Let’s look more closely at how MR solutions are helping sheet metal contractors and commercial HVAC contractors in very practical ways across the job site:

  • Creating an immersive experience for coordination with specialty trades. Using the Microsoft HoloLens with Trimble Connect for HoloLens, users can interact in real time with project models on the job site by choosing from the list of coordination models created in Trimble Connect, for example. With Trimble’s ANSI-approved hard hat for Microsoft HoloLens, sheet metal and commercial HVAC contractors can remotely collaborate with other trade partners, including structural, mechanical and electrical trades. These capabilities allow the team to add context to structural data and geo-referenced assets by overlaying them onto the real world. The solution supports coordination by enabling precise alignment of holographic data on a 1:1 scale on the worksite. This approach helps teams save time by allowing for efficient visualizing, conveying and interacting with complex 3D data in ways never before possible.
  • Moving beyond clash detection. MEP contractors have long understood that early collaboration and 3D design coordination is critical to developing a clash-free environment. The beauty of new MR technologies is that they enable quality assurance (QA) coordination and clash detection much earlier in the project lifecycle. MR solutions are much better tools for coordinating multiple models than using a 2D screen where it’s easy to overlook issues. Contractors can review and approve mission-critical designs by verifying the interaction and constructability of complex systems before they are fabricated and installed. More than simply the ability to look at the model, advanced MR solutions and software give users access to critical building information modeling (BIM) data embedded within project components. This method includes the ability to pull up dimensional information from the model and controlling the visibility of various aspects of the model by toggling layers on and off. By visualizing and ‘walking through’ their projects in the digital world, teams can route changes much more quickly and the preconstruction process is accelerated.
  • Remote collaboration. Using Trimble Connect for HoloLens, sheet metal and HVAC contractors can experience designs and collaborate with remote stakeholders to more effectively communicate design intent. They can also increase engagement and buy-in among diverse stakeholders. These tools offer collaborative features that can help resolve complex spatial dynamics issues much more quickly because users can mimic having the entire team “in the room” to talk about spatial relationships. For example, with multiple HoloLens devices, a group of users can load the same model, engaging the “see what I see” collaboration mode. The remote collaboration capabilities allows multiple users to interact with the same model regardless of where they are located in the world. Each user is identified by an avatar in the model with sight-guide showing what that person is looking at in the model. Users engage in a truly experiential design review process that yields far better results, without requiring teams to travel onsite.
Mixed Reality

MR technologies are supporting a new way of working with models and coordination throughout the building lifecycle, providing stakeholders with the most up-to-date data on their worksite. With the ability to improve understanding and communicate complex spatial conditions through a truly immersive experience, MR solutions will continue to help contractors and stakeholders experience designs and projects in more natural and effective ways.