When working on complex construction or refurb jobs engineers have always had the relevant blueprints and plans on hand, today often in 3D representation. However, it still takes some imagination for the plans to leap from the page into reality.
That leap would be made easier if the engineer could see the plan drawn in life-size 3D and overlaid precisely into their eyeline. That way, conflicts, glitches, obstacles and mistakes would become obvious, and hidden infrastructure would become visible.
US-based Trimble has partnered with Microsoft’s Hololens 2 tech to deliver exactly that solution. Trimble’s equipment takes any traditional hard hat and slides a Microsoft headband over it, which carries a Hololens 2 flip-down screen, a processor and a battery pack. The screen places a true-perspective representation of the CAD data into the user’s field of vision, a little like a 3D HUD, which reacts to the position and attitude of the user’s head.
HoloLens 2 (the heart of Trimble’s system) uses accelerometers, gyroscopes, a magnetometer, four “environment understanding” sensors and an energy-efficient depth camera to position its picture. The system presents a 2k picture – making usage close to the eye more comfortable than older systems, though the picture is limited to a 43-degree horizontal viewing angle.
In addition to placing a 3D representation in the user’s eyeline, the headset can bring up documents and plans, and follows the user’s eye movements as these are read, to key in follow-on pages. Eye movements can also identify precise points of the dataset which the user is looking at, and can select them and zoom in on command. In the same way, the system can add or remove assets on command, so the user could specify “remove water systems”. Some controls are also available with gestures.
The system downloads the required 3D files from Trimble’s own cloud servers, which of course must first be populated with the relevant files by the user. The data flow is strictly one-way – to the headset. The user cannot make or upload changes to the dataset, but the dataset can be made resident on the device, removing the need for a local network.
The system runs off a battery mounted on the headband, which Trimble estimates has three hours of normal use. However, the battery is built-in rather than swappable, and it is likely that in real life battery life would be much shorter.
Trimble has priced its system at US$4,750, which means that battery life is certainly going to be an issue – the need for multiple headsets for long jobs may be unwelcome – but that apart, Trimble’s solution looks at first sight as if it could become addictive.