University of Cambridge engineers mixed reality blueprints with HoloLens

Microsoft’s HoloLens’s creative use across several industries is a testament to how much impact virtual and augmented reality can have on simple tasks. Technicians use HoloLens to maintain elevators, museums to make space where none exist, even NASA has found it useful for inspiring the young minds.

The University of Cambridge, along with Trimble, have now developed yet another practical use of the mixed-reality headset; helping structural engineers and architects visualize building blueprints.

Trimble – for the unaware – acquired SketchUp from Google in 2012. Since then, the company has developed it into a professional software with a new release every year. The company recently released SketchUp Viewer – the first broadly available commercial software for Microsoft’s HoloLens; at the price of $1,500, it’s one of the most expensive products on Windows Store.

The Mixed Reality

HoloLens is a mixed reality headset, unlike the more popular Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Microsoft’s headset doesn’t put the user inside an alternate world, but rather in an augmented one.

Mixed Reality gives developers the possibility to overlay the virtual on top of the physical, and that’s an incredible opportunity.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have demonstrated two potential use cases for their technology; the first, “automated progress monitoring,” can help engineers inspect structures under construction by augmenting a 3D blueprint of the plans on top of the construction site.

The second, named “automatic bridge damage detection,” allows structural engineers to inspect and assess structures without making a physical visit; for a bridge, local teams on-site can take high-resolution imagery, which is then mapped onto a 3D model of the bridge. Structural engineers can then review the 3D model remotely.

It’s only the beginning

These use cases are interesting, but the idea of an engineer wearing a HoloLens at a construction site is amusing, to say the least.

Microsoft’s strategy with the HoloLens is clear: it’s a tool for practical purposes, rather than playing Minecraft; for the rest of us, Microsoft has its OEMs building cheaper headsets.

There are many more of these practical uses to come, these experiments with the technology are only the beginning.

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