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Putting HoloLens to work inspecting infrastructure (University of Cambridge/YouTube)

Putting HoloLens to work inspecting infrastructure

Every few months, Seattle closes down the busy and rapidly aging Alaskan Way Viaduct, which runs along the city’s waterfront, while inspectors painstakingly examine the structure, diverting traffic to the already congested Interstate 5 and to city streets.  Soon, however, mixed reality software being developed at the University of Cambridge in Great Britain may allow inspectors to do their work from the comfort of an office -- and without interrupting traffic.

The Bridge Inspector application -- which is being developed in the university’s Construction IT laboratory in collaboration with Trimble and Microsoft -- employs Microsoft HoloLens as the platform.  According to Ioannis Brilakis, lecturer and leader of the team, the prototype software uses actual data collected from a local Cambridge bridge. After that data is ported into the Bridge Inspector app, engineers wearing HoloLenses can inspect the bridge without leaving the office. 

The team is also working on ways to collect data on the bridge’s condition without shutting down roadways so that inspectors can take a close look.  Drones equipped with high-resolution cameras are, Brilakis said, a promising solution.  The problem is that drones are not currently allowed to fly over vehicle traffic in Great Britain, which means collecting data by drones often means closing roadways.  So with support from Trimble, a California-based firm that specializes in GPS technology and other positioning and monitoring solutions, Brilakis’ team is working on a fix. “Can I equip the drone with the kind of telephoto lenses and sensors that can give me the same data but from a distance?” Brilakis posed. 

The team is also developing an Automated Progress Monitoring app that processes structure data into four-dimensional models that construction engineers wearing HoloLens can superimpose on the real structure. In addition to allowing engineers to visually inspect construction progress, building elements that are missing are automatically marked in the model as behind schedule.   

Brilakis said both apps currently being developed also offer a lot of potential for training inspectors.  “HoloLens allows multiple people to use their own ... devices and jump into the same room,” he said, “so you could easily have an experienced inspector in the model together with one or more junior inspectors with him training them on how to actually evaluate certain things on the bridge.” 

Such training would be especially effective, Brilakis said, because guidelines for civil engineers are very vague.  “It is easy to tell someone to just go and inspect a bridge, but unless you show them what you actually mean by that, you end up with inspectors giving back different answers on the same exact flaws,” he said.

According to Brilakis, Trimble is not only funding the research, but there is an expectation that the Ph.D. students who are developing the applications will work with Trimble to commercialize the products after graduation.  He said the university is establishing a commercialization unit with Trimble in Cambridge that will sponsor the graduates for approximately two years as they work to refine the applications.

Posted by Patrick Marshall on Feb 14, 2017 at 1:12 PM


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