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What could HoloLens 2 bring to construction

 

 
 
source: Microsoft HoloLens 2 press

source: Microsoft HoloLens 2 press

Ever since the benefits of new immersive technologies such as augmented and mixed reality have started to become clear to the construction business in recent years, manufacturers have been competing to become the industry's number one choice for headworn hardware. Although there are now a number of excellent options on the market to choose from, few would disagree that Microsoft and its HoloLens has become one of the main frontrunners.

by Adam Savage


When it was first introduced in 2016, HoloLens was seen as a potential game changer - it was the world's first fully self-contained holographic computer. Consisting of a head-mounted display delivered through a pair of mixed reality smartglasses, HoloLens runs on Microsoft's Windows Mixed Reality operating system, and was designed primarily for enterprise applications.

Many in the sector would have been familiar with AR, VR and MR and the benefits that the technology can bring - for example the ability to access and interact with critical information such as blueprints hands-free, as well as a highly engaging way of delivering remote support and collaboration - since long before the HoloLens arrived. However, Microsoft's solution was notable for taking something that was previously thought of as futuristic and unattainable and make it a real possibility for businesses, even with its $3000 price tag.

Just three years later though, in early 2019, Microsoft announced that its successor is already on its way.

What's new in version 2?

According to Microsoft, the upgraded model is "more immersive" and "more comfortable", as a result of improvements to the quality of the visual display - the company has more than doubled the field of view compared to the original model, while maintaining the holographic density of 47 pixels per degree of sight - and a lighter carbon-fibre headset that is easier to adjust, with a more balanced centre of gravity.

A further step forward is the way that users can now make gestures. Before, the wearer had to learn precise movements, whereas now they are able to interact with holograms instinctively, in a similar way to how they would in the real world. Then there's what some might consider to be HoloLens 2's smartest trick: eye-tracking functionality. Now, the device is able to detect when the worker is looking at an object, and can bring up useful information about it, which can really save time on site and takes hands-free operation to a new level.

But what really proves that the company is looking to strengthen its position with business leaders in construction is the introduction of a new mixed reality app developed in collaboration with Bentley Systems, one of the leading software solutions providers in the sector. Called SYNCHRO XR, it enables users to visualise 4D construction digital twins for infrastructure projects with the HoloLens 2. Through the app, construction managers and other project stakeholders can gain highly immersive insights into planned work, progress with the job, possible site risks and more.

And that's not all - Microsoft has also been working on new hardhat compatibility solutions through its partnership with Trimble - combining the device with traditional construction headgear that means it can be worn on site and keep the wearer safe. Could this prove some doubters wrong who believed that AR hardware would never be seen out in the field due to stringent safety compliance rules?

HoloLens 2 was unveiled at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) event in Barcelona in February this year, and this was followed by the announcement of a Development Edition in early May. As well as the main HoloLens 2 hardware and credits for the Azure cloud computing service, this latest package will include free trials of Unity Pro and Unity PiXYZ Plugin for CAD data. Unreal Engine 4 support for HoloLens 2 is also being made available to developers, which will enable the creation of apps that include photo-realistic renders for use in a wide range of sectors, with construction being one of them.

Following the MWC launch it is still not clear yet exactly when HoloLens 2 will be fully released, but units are expected to start shipping later this year.