True View Visuals AR Edinburgh Hotel
A new hotel in Edinburgh is visualised on site using True View Visuals' technology.

How Augmented Reality could impact our cities

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Alice Cruickshank

Augmented Reality is already making its way into the world of property. AR-enabled schedules which provide a 3D model of a property are being used by some agents, though this technology is far from widespread.

But as cool as it may be to explore such a novelty, AR holds the potential to be much more than a marketing tool. As 5G enters the marketplace, Artificial Intelligence applications become more refined, and our phones become increasingly intelligent, we can expect Augmented Reality to develop into an everyday feature in our cities.

From planning to maintenance – using AR to create a building

AR offers possibilities throughout the whole construction process. The ability to visualise a development in its proposed location and easily make adaptations before breaking ground has the potential to greatly speed up the planning process.

True View Visuals AR TCR Station

True View Visuals uses AR to view the new Tottenham Court Road station in situ

True View Visuals is one UK company that offers this service, where 3D models on an iPad are used to overlay what a development would look like on site. They call this a ‘heads up’ approach, which provides a more useful and accurate visualisation than focusing ‘heads down’ on maps and blueprints. The 3D building models can be viewed in 360 degrees, which means local residents can see how new developments will impact their real world view.

Once planning has been granted, AR continues to be useful during the construction process. The Daqri smart helmet is a game-changing piece of tech with its AR visor, which projects BIM information into the user’s field of vision. Wearers use their eyes like a mouse trackpad to access data including detailed work instructions, 3D building models, and remote connection with experts who can view the scene and advise on the construction process. Skanska was the first UK contractor to become part of Daqri’s early adopter programme back in 2017. The Smart Helmet is not currently widely available, though Daqri’s similar Smart Glasses can be bought for just under $5,000 apiece.

AR for property searches

Have you ever seen a property and thought, I wish I knew more about it? AR can do that.

Estate agent Foxtons has integrated AR capability into its app. Using the Property Scene function, users point an iPhone or iPad down the street they are interested in and the augmented reality search will reveal available properties for sale or to let.

Australian company Commercial Real Estate AR provides a similar service but for office space. Users can filter buildings by priority features such as amenities or tenant industries. Users then use the app to view an area as they walk around, and dots appear on the app to signify matching and available properties in the real world. All the key details about buildings of interest can be accessed within the app.

Once in your home or office space, AR can improve the maintenance process. IBM’s Watson IoT platform can be teamed with a Microsoft HoloLens headset to provide real-time repairs guidance in the form of projected instruction manuals, or connectivity with an off-site expert. Watson technology can also be connected to QR codes, which are scanned to provide AR efficiency and maintenance updates.

Directions, information and exploration – AR-enabled smart cities

The immersive quality of augmented reality means it has great potential for local authorities’ smart city plans. An AR app could be used to provide information, such as directions and highlight public amenities, all of which would be visualised in front of the user. Manchester’s Buzzin app developed as part of the CityVerve smart cities project does exactly this. Augmented reality directs users to important locations in the city such as cash machines and public toilets, while tourists can use Buzzin to provide an interactive tour of the city.

Most smartphone AR apps rely on GPS for location data, but basic GPS can produce unreliable results, as anyone who has had their phone map tell them to walk through a building will know. AI could be the solution to this, with computer vision connected to vast libraries of images providing a more reliable AR identification experience. Blippar is a company working to make this technology a reality. Its AR City app uses ‘urban visual positioning’, which it claims has twice the accuracy of GPS thanks to computer vision.

For AR to really be smart however, applications need to be available on more than just phones. White Raven has developed technology that acts as the next level of satnav technology, allowing drivers to find information about landmarks and buildings as they pass them, as well as promotions from nearby shops and restaurants. The in-car system takes a video stream from a moving camera as input, then uses location data to identify local points-of-interest in real-time.

How will AR impact our cities in the near future?

While augmented reality offers great potential, this technology is still largely in the testing or early level stages. The industry is nowhere near widespread adoption of AR.

However, innovation in this field – particularly in planning and construction – could have a lasting impact, particularly if wearable AR tech becomes mainstream and more affordable. Watch this space… one day through your AR visor.

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