The Week in Summary: Mixed Reality, Robots as Co-Workers & Smog-Eating Buildings

Friday has rolled around once again, and this one's a doozy. No matter your political outlook, we can all agree that times are a changin'. So here's a little respite from the political mayhem with a look back at what's been happening around the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) world.

Mixed reality has seen a lot of press over the last several months. Industry giants like Facebook and Microsoft have seen the potential for virtual and augmented reality (with Zuck facing yet another round of legal flack), and everyone with a Kickstarter account or a venture capitalist on speed dial is trying to get in on the game. One of the biggest road blocks for the little guys, as is often the case with burgeoning technology, is in the price tag. The Microsoft Hololens developer pack, for example, starts at nearly $3,000. Small change if you're a Silicon Valley VC, but a hefty sum if you're working out of mom and dad's garage. Fortunately, at this year's Consumer Electronics Showcase, Microsoft announced partnerships with other PC manufacturers that will be offering a lower-cost alternative. There's just one issue. Spar3D reports, "These $299 headsets are expected to mimic the functionality of a HoloLens, but with one big tradeoff: You'll need to be connected to a PC. The original HoloLens, on the other hand, allows users to move around untethered." Even with that limitation, at one tenth the cost these alternatives could prove useful not just to game developers, but to designers and builders looking to explore the benefits of AR without the hefty initial investment.

Is a knockoff worth it? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below. (Source: Spar3D)

According to some, however, the emphasis on the hardware is secondary to what the medium can already promise. Particularly for those in the design and construction fields, applications already exist that are changing the way we work, both in the office and in the field. In a recent article for Machine Design, Dan Arczynski stated, "Companies can deploy AR right now on smart phones or tablets. The difference maker is the application and how it makes the user more capable, more productive and more valuable." Tools like Smart RealityAugment and Pair allow integration with multiple platforms and 3D models and allow for editing of those models right within the app. They can also be uploaded into the cloud and shared with other members of the design team, clients, or even on the jobsite to measure real-world progress against initial design intentions.

There's no question about the potential for AR to streamline our work processes. (Source: Machine Design)

But working in mixed realities isn't the only thing radically changing the nature of design. Artificial intelligence (AI) is, obviously, on everyone's mind these days, as it does everything from learn to play Go to drive automobiles. While some worry that the AI revolution will eliminate jobs and possibly take over the world, there is another possibility: AI and humans could learn to work together. This is a prospect we've discussed before, but in a recent post by Rob Girling, he takes a look at how AI will augment the role of the designer, not eliminate it. He sees artificial intelligence, particularly in the form of generative design, turning designers into curators: "In the future, designers will train their AI tools to solve design problems by creating models based on their preferences." While the computer may deliver the final design, it is based on the creative foundations of a human designer. Likewise, the final iterations will have to be chosen and honed by a person, ultimately making computer and human into a futuristic design team.

Meet your new co-worker. (Source: Careers 2030)

What could such a design team possibly imagine? The sky is (literally) the limit. The folks over at Arconic are already speculating on the designs of the future, including this three-mile-high skyscraper built from 3D-printed modules with treated glass that eats smog (flying car sold separately).

We think we'll stick to the lower levels on this one... (Source: Business Insider)

This week, we presented at the East Bay Navisworks User Group on "Generative Design, Connected BIM, and Next Generate Clash Management." In addition to presenting on ClashMEP and GenMEP, we also used the opportunity to get feedback on current coordination pain points and how automation and intelligence can potentially solve them. More than half of the room was currently or had recently experienced large hospital projects, so it was a lively conversation to say the least. Special thanks to Turner Construction for the meeting space and Ideate software for the beer. 


Cover image: "Generative Design" is a processing bot that takes the latest abstract pictures from Flickr using an API and re-designs them by shifting groups of pixels randomly to the left and right. You can contact Ondina Frate of @GenerativDesign at

If you're in the Bay Area and would like to learn more about ClashMEP and GenMEP, join Navisworks User Group, East Bay next Wednesday, January 18. We will be discussing how ClashMEP adds real-time clash detection to Autodesk's Revit platform, and how GenMEP creates clash-free MEP routes through Revit environments. Register here

If you work for a general contractor, subcontractor, or design firm and want to collaborate on whitepapers that quantify how computational methods of working will change our industry, reach out to us and let's talk about what we can do. We're open to collaborations worldwide and have lots of ways of measuring performance indicators to gain insight into change in our industry. Contact Brett Young at

Tags: BIM Augmented Reality

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