HoloLens strengthens case for taking BIM on site

Microsoft has unveiled the second iteration of its mixed reality headset, with a renewed focus on helping businesses and professionals at work.

Alex Kipman, a Microsoft Technical Fellow and developer, unveiled HoloLens 2 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Sunday. The latest augmented reality product from Microsoft product focuses on immersion, comfort and time-to-value.

The announcement comes as augmented and virtual reality continue to gain traction in the property sector. Use cases include building management and construction, property searches and customer engagement.

“Mixed reality on HoloLens 2 combines an untethered device with apps and solutions that help people across your business learn, communicate, and collaborate more effectively,” said Microsoft in a statement. “It’s the culmination of breakthroughs in hardware design, artificial intelligence (AI), and mixed reality development from Microsoft, designed to help you lead your industry into the future”

AI tech

Among the new features, Microsoft has upgraded the visual display system to make holograms more realistic and has doubled the field-of-view to 2,000 pixels per eye.

With built-in artificial intelligence and semantic understanding technology, Microsoft said the device enables the direct manipulation of holograms. HoloLens 2 also contains eye-tracking sensors, detecting where the user is looking and hand movements. Users can log in to the device through iris recognition, which Microsoft claims will make it easier for “multiple people to quickly and securely share the device”.

Demonstrating the device over the weekend, Microsoft showed it in action while someone played a hologram piano and altered the speeds of a holographic wind farm.

As well as packing HoloLens 2 with new tech, Microsoft has enhanced the design of the headset to make it more comfortable for the wearer. In particular, HoloLens 2 features a flip-up visor that allows people to use the device while wearing their glasses and step out of mixed reality quickly.

Business focus

Priced at $3,500, Microsoft is specifically targeting HoloLens 2 at the enterprise user. The firm described it as “business ready”, running applications such as Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, Dynamics 365 Layout and Dynamics 365 Guides and integration with Azure out-of-the-box.

However, Microsoft said its ecosystem of mixed reality partners will “provide a broad range of offerings built on HoloLens that deliver value across a range of industries and use cases”.

The device makes it possible to view multiple holograms at once; touch objects as if they were real; understand people, environments and objects through built-in AI; leverage powerful insights such as predictive equipment maintenance models; and stream media to a wireless display.

HoloLens 2 will be available later this year, with bundles costing $125/month. It’ll initially launch in the US, Japan, China, Germany, Canada, UK, Ireland, France, Australia and New Zealand.

Nick McQuire, vice president of enterprise research at analyst firm CCS Insight, said: “While improving the security and design will be major pluses, Microsoft will need to ensure there are durable and rugged models from partners for industrial applications and that it works well on a range of Wi-Fi signals for it to have mass appeal and overcome previous problems. In time, we would expect a 5G Hololens model will arrive as well.”

Impact on property

Like many other property companies, global construction services firm ISG has adopted mixed reality technology as part of digital transformation efforts. ISG uses Hololens to project 3D models and 4D animations in augmented reality at the design stage of a construction project.

Jack Dearlove, senior BIM manager at ISG, said: “It allows us to bring customers into the project earlier and give them a deeper understanding of their new spaces.  The models can be projected onto, and anchored to a surface, so customers or project managers can walk around and view the building or internal services from different angles.

“The models are highly interactable. Customers are able to change the scale of the model, up to 1:1 and anchor, move and rotate the model. The use of the Hololens gives the customer a realistic impression of the project, instantly, in a much safer and more appropriate format than VR.

“Additionally, when exporting a building model data from Revit we are able to select individual components within AR and view the properties live. The use of AR aids initial clarity, reducing potential costly mistakes.”

He expects the recently launched HoloLens 2 to bring about further advancements opportunities with a wider field of vision and interactivity, making augmented reality and wearable tech easier to use and more commonplace.

Dearlove added: “Lighter and faster data exchanges, in tandem with a lightweight heads up display unit is helping to democratise the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and data in the field.

“ISG is waiting with anticipation to deploy this unit to realise our goal of driving revolutionary change in the construction and property industries.”

Eden Dwek, real estate technology and innovation lead at KPMG, added: “In the construction industry, where labour productivity growth has averaged only 1% a year over the past two decades, compared with growth of 2.8% for the total world economy, the advantages that mixed-reality can provide are significant.

“The two core apps that Microsoft has launched with HoloLens 2 give us a peak of its potential in the construction and engineering industries. The Dynamics 365 Guide app allows workers to see instructions in situ as they are working, and gives them the ability to operate hands-free on complex tasks. People can now learn while doing, and/or start work sooner on intricate tasks, reducing costs and shortening project lengths.

“The Dynamics 365 Layout app gives HoloLens 2 the ability to remember objects via the cloud, so they remain anchored in a specific location for others to find, even if they are on another headset. This has a huge potential for planning, where multiple people can work on the same project at different times, and visualise previous additions made by others.”

Natalia Karayaneva, CEO of Propy, an online sales broker, also using Blockchain for contracts, said: “Typically, our clients are visiting many different homes before deciding on the one they want. This requires large amounts of time and expenditure, especially when the location is far from their residence. Instead of visiting five properties for a day, with mixed reality devices the potential buyers can view ten just before lunch.

“The technology also would support agents massively by saving them time and enabling faster conversions.”

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