Umbra has developed technology that allows designers to create, optimise, share and view their designs in real-time on any device. The global company is now redefining rapid visualisation for all industries using complex 3D models. A&D talks to Umbra's chief strategy officer Shawn Adamek about what architects and designers should look for in an augmented reality solution, and how developed the technology actually is. 

How will AR help architects and designers?

Augmented Reality, or AR, can assist architects and designers in a number of ways. Seeing models overlayed in the real world provides all stakeholders with the context needed to fully understand a project as well as understand spatial planning and design visualisation.

Our customers are using AR in the following ways:

  1. Upstream during design: AR provides architects with a powerful visualisation and collaboration tool.
  2. Stakeholder review: Once a model is complete AR allows multifunctional teams to virtually view a model together regardless of their physical location, to better understand how all their pieces feed into the holistic design
  3. Downstream on the construction site: Builders use AR to overlay the 3D design on the actual build site and identify costly mistakes before they are made

A lot of companies are coming out with AR solutions that can be used in A/E/C industries. What’s the difference between all of these solutions and what features should architects and designers be looking for?

There are no real end-to-end workflow solutions that allow designers to easily take an initial design all the way through the construction process. A single AR solution that can be used during initial design cycles, through the various stages of development and also on the construction site creates a holistic solution that ensures that every person on the project is in lockstep and working from the same assets using the same tools.

Are there any industries you’ve found that are more resistant to technological changes?

We have largely focused on AEC because at least the industry leaders do seem to be willing to embrace new tech. I wouldn’t say there are any specific industries that don’t want to embrace technology, but some have IT and security regulations (auto, aerospace, medical) that make technology adoption a bit more challenging.

Are there any challenges for AR technology at the moment? Have you had any challenges at Umbra?

New technology adoption in large industries is always a challenge. When the bulk of the workforce are not technology professionals by trade (they may use a specific number of software tools to perform their job, but they aren’t developers) it means the vast majority of our users don’t want to use a tool with a steep learning curve, or one that is constantly changing. Because of this we’ve designed Composit to be simple to use, and totally integrated into our customers’ current workflow. We also chose to run this platform in the cloud in part because it allows us to make incremental changes that don’t require our users to perform updates or downloads. Therefore, most of the changes we make are totally seamless to them.

What kind of solutions would you like to see developed in the future?

The AR Cloud will be the next version of the internet, with users, both enterprise and consumer, tapping into a virtual universe that will open up dozens or hundreds of new use cases. It’s hard to come up with a short list, but certainly for our own goals at Umbra, better camera or laser-based tracking that could help improve 3D AR model anchoring for our AEC customers would be a huge step forward. There are some early HW designs that look promising but nothing in the mainstream yet. Getting models to anchor onsite with milimetre accuracy would enable construction professionals to use AR with increased confidence and precision.