Other thought leaders and innovators from Boeing, Mayo Clinic, Tesla, and many others presented on how XR helps them make better decisions with more information and improve performance. Sessions addressed a host of topics including:
Of the 250+ sessions, a number were from the AEC industry. Several more from Manufacturing, Aerospace and Industrials and other enterprises that could help address challenges in AEC. The overall consensus is that XR is among a host of other technologies like AI, IoT, 3D printing, Reality Capture and more that will continue to evolve and help the AEC industry with future growth.
In what follows we will present an overview of some of the primary themes seen throughout the conference that could be of use to AEC companies immersing themselves in XR.
XR is reaching critical mass
It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. Among many other things, Covid acted as a catalyst in the XR space. New companies, new ideas, and new applications of XR echoed throughout the conference. There was a shared sense of excitement about where XR is today and where it will go in the next 5 years. For an industry that has been around for a while there seemed to be a vibe that the industry is finally leaning into the curve. From the buzz around the “Metaverse” to Meta (formerly facebook) announcing it’s plans for it’s own Metaverse, consumer adoption is coming and there is more of a sense of urgency to build and scale solutions.
Growth across the supply chain
XR is becoming less insulated as more companies explore the technology and share it with partners across the supply chain. For example the same scanning and XR technology used on construction sites are being used by Steel manufacturers to help them solve safety issues as discussed in the session on building the Smart Factory with Seah Changwon Special Steel. The same way BIM can be created and shared across partners, so too can human models be used to 3D print for training or be used in an operating theater at Mayo Clinic.
The term “Spatial” is being used in more ways. Phrases such as “spatial commerce” and “Spatial Transformation” appeared in talks and discussions around the conference. In this context, Spatial Transformation can be seen as an extension of Digital transformation reaching across the organization and including many technologies, tools, and a different way of seeing the business.
This Spatial Transformation could be seen in the session “Augmenting Home Improvement: How Lowe’s Innovation Labs Is Bringing Mixed Reality to Retail”. Mason Sheffield from Lowe’s Innovation Lab discussed how customers can use their tools to create Digital Twins of their homes and empower them to visualize change before they head to the store.
Beyond the Headset
Extended Reality is more than AR and VR. It is immersion and blending of realities. Whether it is virtual training, remote collaboration, or on the jobsite AR, the goal is to get the user immersed enough to connect and engage. This includes what the user sees, feels, senses, hears and ultimately how well it tap into the human condition. Companies like Haptx were at AWE doing just that with the ability to use gloves to physically feel the world of VR. Imagine being in a VR space and being able to reach out and physically feel a pipe, or move a stud. Imagine safety training in VR where you can actually smell smoke.
Safe, accessible, and ethical Metaverse
The keynote by John Hanke from Niantic was a resounding message: Let's build a safe, accessible, and ethical Metaverse. Safety was addressed in several sessions referring to safety in the Metaverse, on the construction site, in the lab or the operating theater.
Remote collaboration was of course a hot topic in a post-Covid world. Several presenters discussed the challenges faced when Covid hit and how XR technology helped them continue to push projects forward. Christian Carlsson illustrated the process of helping the team at Grundfos, the worlds largest pump manufacturer, stay connected with training employees about a water network, filtering and distribution by immersing them in rich experiences and classroom settings even when they were apart.
The XR World is Expanding
Qualcomm Snapdragon announcing Snapdragon spaces makes it easier for developers to build. Niantic lightship showed off their expanded support for geospatial tags. Hardware options continue to grow with Snap glasses, Lenovo Think Reality, Varjo Aero and many others that have been released in 2021 with more to come in 2022.
Infrastructure is also expanding. 5G networks are powering more projects, more companies were at AWE talking about more ways to generate and distribute content, a critical path for the industry.
Strategic Planning for XR
Perhaps the most considerable theme at AWE was that companies are appreciating the potential of XR and developing a strategic approach to it. Rather than relegating XR to the “innovation” lab to experiment with, businesses are using real business cases to test, evaluate, and scale XR across the enterprise. This change in culture is evolving from XR being seen as a “solution looking for a problem” to being seen as a different way of solving existing problems.
For example, Nobel Vale from Pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squib presented on how their program would help solve existing challenges of properly documenting work and needing the ability to be fully hands-on across a number of use cases. Nobel pointed out some key elements of their success in testing and deploying the program, starting out with educating Senior Leadership to get early buy-in, presenting quick wins and the importance of having a good partner.
Walter Depth from Magic leap pointed out a similar set of steps in his session on “Essential steps of Spatial Transformation” in which he laid out 6 key steps in approaching XR and implementing in the enterprise. The 6 steps are: Align AR Strategy, Leadership Commitment, Choose a Strategic Starting Point, Retain Knowledgeable Partners, Deploy (crawl, walk, run), and Test, Measure, Regroup, Refine.
Laura Bogusch from Boeing presented on the use of the Microsoft HoloLens in its wiring application at the Boeing Digital factory. Using the HoloLens teams are able to see more information where it’s needed and allow them to be hands-free as they install 150 miles of cabling per plane. Boeing reported 88% first-pass quality and a 20% reduction in time and plans to use the HoloLens in the wiring of the new Airforce 1 fleet.
Mayo Clinic, a top Global Healthcare provider presented on how they have adopted a strategic approach to scaling XR across multiple divisions at the large multinational organization. Dr. Jonathan Morris presented on how teams identified challenges across a number of business lines and then presenting and testing how XR technology could be applied to address these challenges. Dr. Morris has done this with the backdrop of navigating these solutions through the extremely high standards of one of the world’s top healthcare organizations.
Finally, the session on reducing waste in construction presented by Dace Campbell from Mckinstry and Spectar included a great example of describing a business problem and how XR can address it: "getting the right information, the right tools, the right materials, to the right person, in the right place, at the right time”. For job site applications like sheet metal or plumbing hangers, this means seeing 1:1 BIM data on the job site where it’s needed. The session went on to describe how XR empowers "Lean" principles starting with a test pilot, proving the business results and then scaling from using XR on one room to one floor to one building and ultimately to multiple projects. As for evaluating the success the team shared how they structured the specific tests and calculated the ROI.
The results of this pilot were 3.1 minutes saved per hanger, when taken across projects that ended up with 14,000 saved or $1.4m per year.
Along with new approaches to business applications, challenges remain and were also discussed. Gabe Paez from the remote collaboration company The Wild hosted a panel discussion on “XR Collaboration: The Future of the Building Industry” posing typical questions that AEC firms deal with when evaluating and adopting new technology. Rawle Sawh, Director of VDC at Gilbane Building brought a refreshingly realistic approach to the discussion. A tried and true construction guy, he pointed out that "Construction is the industry most resistant to change". With that in mind his team has to “make sure it provides business value” and that it brings a tangible solution that can be up and running quickly.
As part of this panel, Viveka Devadas an AEC specialist at Autodesk pointed out that “Content is King” and that a critical need is democratizing access to the 3D Model in a secure and centralized way. This inevitably includes the need for improved compatibility across platforms like Revit, Unity, and many others. She also noted that every solution is custom because every project is custom and there remains a need to be able to scale solutions to fit the need for each customer project.
AWE 2021 brought people and ideas together to cross-pollinate across many industries and disciplines. For innovators in the AEC space, there were many themes to take away.
Above all else, AWE showed us that the future of XR is indeed bright.