Augmented Reality technology becomes a tool for urban and construction planning

April 11, 2012

Mobile computing tools for urban and construction planning have developed dramatically over the past few years. Even by global standards, the progress made at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has been remarkable. Augmented Reality technology developed by VTT has enabled the placement of office and residential construction in the appropriate environment and the study of the overall concept on-site, even at the planning stage, for example on a smart phone display.

Would you like to know what kind of view you will have from your back garden, or your balcony, of the neighbouring block when the planned housing is eventually completed? And how will that yet-to-be-built office building look standing on that empty plot you can see on the screen of your smart phone or iPad?

This is the cue for a few of the applications that VTT has been getting to grips with over the past decade or so. Combining technology originally developed for video and with positioning software has created new areas of application that include urban and construction planning and interior design.

The practical applications developed by VTT are the first of their kind in the world, and have caused a considerable stir both at home and abroad.

Examples of recent Finnish applications are the virtual presentations for a tower block and a projected hotel to city officials in demanding decision making cases. In both cases the VTT-developed technology was used to place a sketch of the building in its natural environment. The same images could be examined on site by using, among other means, a smart phone camera display.

According to Charles Woodward, Research Professor for VTT's Augmented Reality field, the new virtualisation technology brings broadened perspectives not only to the work of architects and planners but also to the full range of and related decision-making.

"Using this technique the overall concept can take shape at the proper scale and far more realistically than with the 3D imagery and modelling of traditional design software. Although principally a design tool, augmented reality is also a tool for communication, one that can be used to disseminate a more realistic picture of construction projects in support of resident feedback and decision-making," says Woodward, in summarising.

Apart from its benefit to design and planning professionals, VTT's Augmented Reality technology also offers advantages for interior designers of the average household, enabling the complete redesign and furnishing of an entire living room, for example. In this case the software application based on VTT's technology has been developed by VividWorks Ltd, and is already in use on the website of Vepsäläinen Ltd, a Finnish furniture chain.

Woodward says that commercial interest in the VTT innovation will grow in response to discovery of new applications for the technology. Potential areas include property maintenance and services, while the technology is also awakening interest among construction companies and software houses in the field of design.

"The technology, for example, enables a "see-through" application for mapping the position of plumbing and ventilation systems behind walls and panels," says Woodward. "In this way we can observe any changes by comparing the prevailing on-site situation with information that has been recorded previously."

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