Mixed Reality: Just One Click Away

Author: Aviad Almagor, Director of the Mixed Reality Program, Trimble, Inc.

Though best known for GPS technology, Trimble is a company that integrates a wide range of positioning technologies with application software, wireless communications, and services to provide complete commercial solutions. In recent years, Trimble has expanded its business in building information modeling, architecture and construction, particularly since the company’s 2012 acquisition of SketchUp 3D modeling software from Google. Mixed Reality is becoming a growing component of that business. This guest blog post by Trimble’s Aviad Almagor discusses how Trimble is delivering mixed reality solutions to its customers.

Many industries – from aerospace to architecture/engineering/construction (AEC) to mining – work almost entirely in a 3D digital environment. They harness 3D CAD packages to improve communication, performance, and the quality of their work. Their use of 3D models spans the full project lifecycle, from ideation to conceptual design and on to marketing, production, and maintenance.

Take AEC, for example. Architects design and communicate in 3D. Engineers design buildings’ structures and systems in 3D. Owners use 3D for marketing and sales. Facility managers use 3D for operation and maintenance.

And yet, we still consume digital content the same way we have for the last 50 years: behind a 2D screen. For people working in a 3D world, the display technology has become a limiting factor. Most users of 3D content have been unable to visualize the content their jobs depend on in full 3D in the real world.

However, mixed reality promises to change that. Mixed reality brings digital content into the real world and supports “real 3D” visualization.

The challenge

There are several reasons why mixed-reality 3D visualization has not yet become an everyday reality. Two of the primary reasons are the user experience and the processing requirements.

For any solution to work, it needs to let engineers, architects, and designers focus on their core expertise and tasks, following their existing workflow. Any technology that requires a heavy investment in training or major changes to the existing workflow faces an uphill battle.

Meanwhile, 3D models have become increasingly detailed and complex. It is a significant challenge – even for beefy desktop workstations – to process large models and support visualization in 60fps.

One way around that problem is to use coding and specialized applications and workflows, but that approach is only acceptable to early adopters and innovation teams within large organizations – not the majority of everyday users.

To support real projects and daily activities – and be adopted by project engineers — mixed reality needs to be easily and fully integrated into the workflow. At Trimble, we call this “one-click mixed reality” – getting data condensed into a form headsets can handle, while requiring as little effort from users as possible.

Making one-click mixed reality possible

The lure of “one-click” solutions is strong. Amazon has its one-click ordering. Many software products can be downloaded and installed with a single click. The idea of one-click mixed reality is to bring that ease and power to 3D visualization.

Delivering one-click mixed reality requires a solution that extends the capabilities of existing tools by adding mixed reality functionality without changing the current workflow. It must be a solution that’s requires little or no training. And it means that any heavy-lifting processing that’s required should be done in the background. From a technical standpoint, that means any model optimization, including polycount, occlusion culling, and texture handling, is performed automatically without the need for manual, time-consuming specialized processes.

At Trimble, we’re working to deliver one-click mixed reality by building on top of existing solutions. Take SketchUp for example, one of the most popular 3D packages in the world. We want to make it possible for users to design a 3D model in SketchUp, click to publish it, and instantly be able to visualize and share their work in mixed reality.

We’re making sure that we support users’ existing workflow in the mixed reality environment. For example, we want to enable users to use scenes from SketchUp, maintain layer control, and collaborate with other project stakeholders in the way they’re accustomed.

And we’re taking it one step further by making it possible to consume models directly from SketchUp or from cloud-based environments, such as SketchUp 3D Warehouse or Trimble Connect. This will eliminate the need to install SketchUp on the user’s device in order to visualize the content in mixed reality. As a next step, we are exploring with our pilot customers a cloud-based pre-processing solution which will optimize models for 3D visualization.

We’re making good progress. For example, in his Packard Plant project (which was selected to represent the US at the Venice Architecture Biennale), architect Greg Lynn used SketchUp and SketchUp Viewer for Microsoft HoloLens to explore and communicate his design ideas. In this complex project, a pre-processing solution was required to support mixed reality visualization.

“Mixed-reality bridges the gap between the digital and the physical. Using this technology I can make decision at the moment of inception, shorten design cycle, and improve communication with my clients” 

– Architect Greg Lynn

One-click mixed reality is coming to fruition. For project teams, that means having the ability to embed mixed reality as part of their daily workflow. This will enable users to become immediately productive with the technology, gain a richer and more complete visualization of their projects, and build on their existing processes and tools.

The advent of one-click mixed reality indicates that the world of AR/VR is rapidly approaching the time when processing requirements, latency, and user experience issues will no longer be barriers.

Aviad Almagor is Director of the Mixed Reality Program at Trimble, Inc.

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