Speed is a Key Advantage to Augmented Reality System Webcor Concrete is Testing

Augmented Reality immerses users in computer-generated environments in which the physical and virtual environments are combined.

August 30, 2023

Technology / Innovation

Madison Hildenbrand had never experimented with Virtual or Augmented Reality (AR), but she was up for giving it a try when Eric Peterson proposed that she test a new tool as part of her job as Sr. Project Engineer for Webcor Concrete on the Biosolids Digester Fuel Project (BDFP).

Eric serves on the American Concrete Institute (ACI) Foundation’s Concrete Innovation Council, which is where he was introduced to the technology and volunteered to work with the developer performing field trials. "The Council facilitates new innovations with respect to anything from an invention to a new process or a new material," Eric explains.

The Concrete Innovation Council serves as a router for new technology developers, vetting ideas, assuring that they have intellectual property established, introducing them to the technical and code writing committees they may need to work with, and, in some cases research funding.  The group meets virtually throughout the year and at conventions twice a year.  "They provide presentation opportunities for technology developers at the conventions and once a year at a Technology Forum, " Eric explains. The next Technology Forum is in Portland, Oregon, on August 29, at which. Argyle -- the Portland-based company that developed the AR technology -- will present its work.  

The AR Solution

Eric volunteers on five ACI technical committees and two committees of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), helping them to write the codes, specifications, and guides they publish.  He has chaired two technical committees.

Augmented Reality immerses users in computer-generated environments in which the physical and virtual environments are combined. "When you wear the headset, you can maintain situational awareness while at the same time be immersed in a holographic projection of a wireframe version of the model," he says. Eric first tested the system as part of a validation effort during the first mat foundation poured at the BDFP's Building 600. "We got the model up and running, but the anchorage kept drifting," he says, adding that some other issues emerged, as well.  Since then the device has undergone improvements and is now more stable.

Wearing the headset allows a concrete engineer to see exactly where everything is supposed to be before a pour and identify anything that is out of place because the actual item doesn't line up with the model. After a pour, the headset lets the engineer see the precise location of items now covered by the concrete.

Argyle made modifications based on Eric's report. "Now we're in the second phase of the experiment," he says. The trial was given a thumbs-up by Webcor's Innovation Committee, and Eric nominated Madison to help with the trial. "The digester seemed like the best project we could use it on," he says. Eric had worked with Madison while scanning the mat foundations. "She seemed like a good choice. She's an engineer on Building 600, and there are plenty of opportunities to use the technology coming up. She has the headset equipment, which shows promise."

An Immediate Success

The first time Madison donned the Magic Leap headset, it was disorienting, but after using it a few times, she came to see it as less as some futuristic gizmo and more as a cool, useful tool. Even during that disorienting first use, she could find something amiss with a deck pour that would have been considerably harder to find using the traditional method of pulling tape. "Using the headset, it was very clear that we needed more rebar dowels, and, as a result, we were able to take care of the problem. The very first time I used it, I got the results we were looking for."

Each time she has used the system since then, it has become easier and faster for her to prepare and then find what she was looking for. "It's easy to see whether everything was in the right place," she says

Madison plans to continue using the system throughout the project, working with Argyle to continue making improvements. "We're using it for pre-pour analysis as well as post-pour checks," she says. Initially, she says, she'll take advantage of the technology to make sure elevations and locations are good.

Speed is one of the system's key advantages, Eric says. "When you collect information from a drone flight, and it goes into processing, it takes four hours to get a report. Scanning may require an eight-hour wait. With the headset, there's no wait at all. Long-term, this will be a faster, cheaper way of verifying locations."

Seeking Greater Detail

A number of companies are working on similar technologies, including Obayashi's Silicon Valley Ventures Lab (SVVL). "We just happened to get access to this one," Eric says. "Their solution is pretty good." Argyle designs their software based on the Magic Leap headset; contractors then subscribe to the software designed specifically for this hardware, which works well in broad daylight, he adds.

As for the trial at BDFP, Madison thinks the system would deliver even greater value if the model contained greater detail. "It would be cool for formwork planning or general sequencing if we could import equipment into the headset and get a better idea of how to preplan where it all should go. These areas get really congested, and planning would be easier with 3D visuals," she says.