AR / Tech

Building Scale Alignment in Augmented Reality 

In her latest blog post, Argyle CEO Maret Thatcher addresses the pivotal role of alignment in augmented reality (AR) for construction, highlighting the industry's challenges with early AR technologies.
March 14, 2024
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22 January 2021

Whether you call it Calibration, or Positioning, or Alignment, it all boils down to: 

In construction, your shit needs to be where you can find it. 

Likewise, your data needs to be accessible where you need it. Like a tool on your belt, your quick references must be pretty instantly accessible. 

When it comes to buildings and augmented reality, you want the model to load in the right spot.

Argyle’s alignment was designed from the ground up for the construction site. 

For folks looking for a quick primer on how to set Argyle Alignment, check out the Knowledge Base. 

But if you want to learn more about construction alignment in general, read on.

Fragile Augmented Reality and Static Buildings

My team is surprised they hear the same story on almost every call–the construction company  invested tens of thousands on a Hololens 2--turned paperweight shaped back in 2021. Then it was one friction after another–First they couldn’t get their big buildings into the device. Then, whatever content they could bring in was difficult to set up and would not stay put.

Me? I’m not at all surprised. Before we started Argyle in 2019, we helped AEC teams learn about game engines and virtual reality. The early days of virtual reality were famously overhyped. Demoware posing as useful. 

This is not to say early Augmented Reality implementations were entirely useless–They’ve saved teams tens of thousands of dollars. They made the impossible constructible. Early adopters fought the friction and used AR to communicate spatially. I was one of them–and saw first-hand how the promise of AR fell short of its potential for years. 

Before Argyle we were bringing BIM as holograms to the jobsite with legacy tools like Visual Live and Trimble Connect. We even built our own one-off product. The proof was there. AR was SO COOL, but it only stayed cool for minutes at a time. 

Why? The alignment was so fragile you could just breathe on it wrong and it went askew. The point of data aligned to space was lost when that data drifts. 

Even the most careful implementations––where QR codes were pasted every 10 feet were jumpy. The AR set-up juice wasn’t worth squeeze. 

When an AR alignment can barely survive a single user session, most construction teams opted for their existing tools. We don’t blame them. But an augmented jobsite–one with a reliable visual reference was a potentially paradigm-shifting way of working in construction. We decided alignment would be our mission–that ease and alignment are hand and and. We got to work on it.

At its most promising, Augmented Reality places large datasets in the real world. But how that data is placed depends on your use case. So how does a future with an augmented jobsite work? Where did we come from and where are we going?

(These are the ones we know well and these are our ratings. Placer Solutions has a nice visual image they use and you should check out if you’re interested in the topic.)

Every good structural engineer knows to design her buildings with flexibility or they’re too breakable for modern use. If a structure can’t respond to the weights and groans and winds placed on it, it snaps. Construction alignment felt the same way. So we dug into the alignment problem first.

Like a static structure, Static Alignment will also break. 

In construction, we’re working with large models and big floorprints. By the nature of our work, the construction environment changes daily. With this in mind, Argyle developed its own alignment to overcome drift and respond appropriately to unique construction scenarios. Argyle’s alignment is closest to a visual positioning, but it has an additional layer of logic on top of it to be responsive to changes on site. 

We call it Risa for Resilient Interdependent Spatial Alignment. It plays well with other data types–not relying on the BIM for positioning, it opens a world of building-scale alignment possibilities.

We have patents surrounding Argyle’s AR alignment, the details of which are fascinating to a few and available on search. What’s important is that we then built and implemented the techniques into the Argyle application and made a user-friendly interface. Our alignment technology is built off of these principles and the goals we achieve most of the time:

  • Persistence
    • Definition: Application stays set up over multiple sessions. A device in the space is located automatically such that the user can use the application from their current position in the space.
    • Threshold: After Argyle has been set up Argyle in a space, when the app is first turned on, it can find and align itself in that space in less than 1 minute.

  • Accuracy
    • Definition: The ability to recognize the difference between locations with similar visual clues. Data is placed in the correct place spatially. 
    • Threshold: When it’s aligned, it is accurate if the model shows in the correct part of the site or building. It is not confusing one bay with another.

  • Precision
    • Definition: The measured distance between digital and physical spatial anchors–each set by human hand. 
    • Threshold: Near locations where explicit adjustment has been made, app holds within 1/8” for a user session. While traveling out of explicitly aligned space app maintains alignment within 6” and is correctible by user.
    • Threshold: App Holds explicit adjustments during entire user session. User can easily set corrections and heighten accuracy on the fly.

  • Resilience
    • Definition: The ability for alignment to survive changes in the visual environment at a given location.
    • Threshold: some text
      • Turn off app, put new visual elements on site (new wall, pallet, etc) and application finds position in less than 1 minute
      • Data alignment survives other people in the space
      • If at any point it loses Argyle loses its position, it finds position in less than 1 minute

  • Performance
    • Definition: Application’s rapid rendering and Alignment’s responsiveness to visual cues in the environment for placement of digital content.
    • Threshold: The application loads in its correct (accurate) location and keeps up with adjustments to positioning as the user travels through space.

  • Usability
    • Definition: Easy setup and maintenance, as well as appearance in physical and digital environments
    • Threshold: Set up on-site in minutes or maintained set up from the previous user.

This is all a very long way of saying–we’ve thought about your experience on the site, but the best way is to test it.

Maret Thatcher is the Co-Founder and CEO of Argyle, and speaks on spatial computing, augmented reality, and construction technology.

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