By Jodie Hartnell
Augmented reality has moved past the phase of tantalizing possibility to real-world applications. A Norwegian design firm put a new, low-cost, real-time 3D AR field solution into practice and reaped immediate benefits.
Designers for AEC projects large and small face pressing questions such as: “How will all the elements fit together and look when completed?” And “how best can the designers anticipate potential conflicts and avoid costly change orders?” Digital twins and 3D augmented reality (AR) visualization are touted as the answer but are often difficult to implement. After several years of searching for a 3D AR solution, a major design firm found the right fit.
ViaNova Plan og Trafikk AS (plan and traffic) in Sandvika, Norway, is a prominent, award-winning infrastructure design firm that has been on the leading edge of building information management (BIM) designs for 4D construction and asset information modelling to support post-construction operations. According to 3D Designer Andreas Haugbotn, ViaNova works in a fully 3D design environment. “We first build the 3D model, creating a digital twin of site and design, and then produce any required 2D drawings later.”
Haugbotn and ViaNova have been looking at various 3D AR solutions for many years: hardware and software that can bring the 3D design model to the field and project it over the real-world view of existing terrain and structures—precisely geospatially registered, to scale, from any vantage point, and all in real time. ViaNova has not been alone in this quest. For many years geospatial professionals have been intrigued by stunning demonstrations of augmented reality.
When ViaNova was able to test and evaluate the Trimble SiteVision 3D AR solution in 2018, they saw it as an opportunity to see if it would meet their application needs. ViaNova had seen demos for and evaluated a number of solutions in recent years—there are a number of excellent ready-to-deploy solutions already on the market. What was it about this type of solution, contrasted with others, that ViaNova found compelling enough to deploy for a current major project? Haugbotn found the system to be a sharp, but welcome departure from existing solutions he had explored.
Drilling into how SiteVision works reveals those differences:
Haugbotn was attracted to the simple design. “It is hand held, low cost, and does not require special training for our people,” he said. “We were able to run it on a Galaxy 10+ phone.” SiteVision uses the powerful onboard processors and fast displays of today’s consumer phones to superimpose an interactive view of the design model over the real-time view of the site captured by the on-board camera. It can import nearly any standard AEC (BIM IFC, SKP, CAD, LandXML, Revit, and more) model types.
Another key feature, one for which other AR solutions ViaNova evaluated mostly came up short, is high-quality spatial precision. If a model is not precisely positioned and oriented with the real-world view, mismatches may lead to erroneous analyses and conclusions. A high-precision GNSS antenna sits atop the handle that holds an Android-based phone. The GNSS software, Trimble Catalyst, runs on the processors of the phone alongside SiteVision. Resultant real-time high-precision positions and on-board MEMS motions sensors enable geo-registration and orientation of the 3D model to the site coordinates. “It is quite good; we get about 3cm precision in the horizontal,” said Haugbotn. The high precision and orientation also enable a cut/fill feature for evaluating project earthworks progress in real-time.
Based on their early tests, Haugbotn took delivery of a pair of SiteVision field units and deployed them for a major rail bridge project (see sidebar) in November 2019—and within a few weeks of implementing SiteVision it proved to be the catalyst for making crucial design decisions. “We immediately gained an understanding of what would be built, and from this we changed the original design,” said Haugbotn.
Haugbotn also found the system ideal for a zoning project in Trondheim. “We can visualize what the roads and structures will look like at each site,” he said. “Everyone involved—designers, local people, authorities—we can show them how it will really look; something we cannot do with [2D] drawings.”
Haugbotn intends to deploy the new system as a standard tool used in day-to-day operations for all future ViaNova projects, large and small, and will use it to continue to inform many more design decisions for the Falkenborg Bridge project though its completion.
After the many years of demos and seeing the “potential” of 3D AR for AEC, it’s great to finally see real-world examples of how readily affordable and accessible AR is being utilized for infrastructure projects, on a daily basis—and in real time.
Norway is making substantial investments in transportation improvements. This includes the InterCity initiative, a slate of projects that not only encompasses road and rail elements, but impacts utilities, the landscape, vehicular and foot traffic, and adjacent built and natural systems.
The first design issue that SiteVision was deployed to resolve issues on was the new Falkenborg Bridge, that crosses over a rail trunk line at Leangen Station (near Trondheim City). “With SiteVision we could see quite clearly that the bridge as designed was too big for the site,” said Haugbotn. “And the access approaches were not where the pedestrian traffic would be concentrated. We changed the design from these field evaluations.”
Haugbotn deployed two units at the Falkenborg Bridge site; multiple units allowed more team members to view the same model, at the same time, from different vantage points. The issues with the bridge footprint and how it encroached on other site features were readily recognized by the design team members using the handheld AR devices. And a simulated walkthrough—while carrying the SiteVision units—of the proposed pedestrian traffic routes to the bridge access ramps revealed pinch points and a mismatch with expected flows. These observations directly informed subsequent design changes. The new system had proven its value.
Jodie Hartnell is a freelance geographer and technology writer based in Western Canada.