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Augmented Reality for Engineering

Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that allows you to superimpose computer-generated images created in CAD or building information modeling (BIM) software onto a user’s view of the real world, which creates a composite or augmented view. A brief history of augmented reality technology dates back to the 1950s when Morton Heilig was designing the Sensorama Stimulator. This led to augmented reality in the mainstream in the 1990s, with the popular application of virtual first-down and scrimmage lines in live football games on television.  

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Revenue forecasts for the technology show a potential for $1 billion this year but shoot up to $120 billion by 2020. Considering that AR is already touching so many different industries, such as archaeology, art, commerce, education, fashion, gaming, medical, military, navigation, sports, television and other entertainment, the forecast is easy to believe. For comparison, the global fast food industry generates around $570 billion in revenue.  

Augmented reality is no longer science fiction. Within the last few years, this has all become possible with the appropriate CAD software, 3D data from that software, a smartphone or tablet with a camera and the right amount of computing power. With this technology, you point your device (which includes a camera) on an object in the real world while computers add (augment), align and scale the 3D models with your view. The computer models appear in the real world, where they would be if completed. A “target,” often a printed QR code, is used to sync the location of the digital 3D data with the real world. You can walk around the object and look up or down, just as you would if it was there in real life.In addition to smartphones and tablets, recent advancements in technology have added an additional option for augmented reality viewing. Head-mounted displays can be modified to utilize see-through glasses or goggles that can project images over what you are looking at in real life. The Microsoft HoloLens, Google Cardboard and the ODG R-7 smartglasses are just a few examples.  

One of the biggest impacts AR has had on the architectural and construction industries is the ability to more realistically visualize a project. Architects and designers can show their designs to their clients as they would appear in their proposed sites. There are many examples for how augmented reality can help with visualization. A lot of people have trouble visualizing an end product from a set of 2D drawings, and while a 3D model can help visualize the product itself, it does nothing to help you visualize that product in its actual end environment.

Let’s say you bought a beautiful lakefront lot to build your dream home on but you can’t decide which color siding, brick or stucco to go with or which roof style you should choose. Use augmented reality to review all of your options, seeing exactly how the different colors and textures work with the actual landscape and surroundings of your lot. Augmented reality could be used to show you how different furniture options would look in each room of your home. You can even look at how different paint colors and schemes would look inside your existing home.

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