Early adopters are cutting the cord to take long-promised technology, including augmented and virtual reality and artificial intelligence, out of the test labs and into real-world applications.

At the annual Autodesk University (AU) conference in Las Vegas on Nov. 14-17, thousands of attendees watched demonstrations of practical technology and wearable devices, including Daqri’s augmented-reality Smart Helmet.

Mortenson Construction workers earlier this month field-tested a developer’s version of Daqri’s helmet at a medical-center expansion under construction in Minneapolis.

Designed specifically for construction and industrial workers, the device combines an augmented-reality display that runs BIM 360, with an OSHA PPE- certified hardhat and protective eyewear.

The helmet’s processor wirelessly renders the BIM model at full scale at the construction site. During the test, Mortenson workers donned the helmet to visualize future work in context of the site in an area with particularly complex structural and mechanical systems.

One of the first uses for the device for the contractor will be as an input device for quality-control reports, says Taylor Cupp, project solutions technologist with Mortenson. In several planned pilots, Cupp says he wants to “use it for an extended period of time to gather more metrics around what we are really fixing out of using this.”

One future use could be to mitigate the loss of a rapidly aging workforce’s knowledge base. Tools such as Daqri’s Smart Helmet can help contractors to capture and transfer this knowledge to a newer generation of workers, Cupp says.

Daqri plans to begin full-scale production and launch the helmet early in the second quarter of 2017.

John Jacobs, chief information officer at JE Dunn Construction, demonstrated how his firm used Autodesk’s Forge app development platform, announced at last year’s AU, to custom-build Lens, a model-based estimating tool. “Lens enables detailed estimates to start from just an idea or napkin sketch, and they come to life visually,” Jacobs says. Cost data and model objects are linked, he notes, adding, “At any stage, the estimate is tied to the model, even in the early conceptual stage.”

JE Dunn is using the application on Iowa State University’s $84-million Student Innovation Center. With architect Kieran Timberlake, the firm designed and priced five full designs in just five days. “That’s 10 weeks of work in five days—a 93% reduction in duration,” Jabobs says.

In another real-world application, Autodesk applied artificial intelligence to a practical need by using generative design software to design its Toronto office building. “We surveyed all of our employees and put their preferences and work habits into the system,” says Jeff Kowalski, Autodesk’s chief technology officer. Algorithms evaluated the survey data against a set of hard constraints, such as the boundaries of the building, and generated thousands of alternative floor plans, looking to maximize outside views, minimize distractions and foster collaboration.

While some worry that the adoption of technology might encroach on construction jobs, AU representatives pointed out that past disruptive technologies have created more opportunities for people.

“These technologies are not a threat. They are more like superpowers. The real threat is any competitor that adopts these superpowers more quickly than you do,” Kowalski says.

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