Construction of modern bridges can be incredibly exciting and unique. One of the really interesting things about engineering at this level is that it’s always changing and improving, and this is reflected in some of the most incredible bridges of the 21th century so far. Even more exciting though is just how early we still are in the present century, and how much more we have to look forward to when it comes to bridge engineering innovation.
Here, we’re wondering if augmented reality may come into play with some of this innovation. Right now, we understand AR to be a very promising tech, but one that’s largely limited to a few areas of interest. For instance, just to give an idea to anyone who may not be familiar with modern augmented reality, consider these examples:
Home Design - Home design has been something of a surprise hit with regard to augmented reality. It’s not the sort of thing most would have thought of when imagining what could be done with AR, nor had it made any sort of splash in virtualreality before mainstream AR emerged. However, almost the very moment AR tech was ushered in by major mobile providers we began to see apps dealing with various aspects of home design. By and large they allowed users to visualize furniture and decorations in their homes through tech, as a sort of trial-and-error, in-home window shopping experience. We expect to see further development in this area, to the point that whole home environments will be conceived of and set in motion through AR.
Gaming - This was the first big splash for the tech, and came via a handful of mobile apps that are still fairly popular a few years in: Pokémon GO, Stack AR, and others you can find in your iOS or Google Play store. This is also an area in which many expect to see more innovation, as some games that have moved into VR also embrace AR. Most VR games are too complex, but certain online and mobile games that have dabbled in VR may be well suited to AR, which is why this category should continue to grow. Some of the online pokies out of New Zealand have made the move to VR, and it’s fun to imagine AR versions of animated games of this ilk, to name one example category. For that matter, we could say the same of some typical poker games. And casino activity aside, there are tabletop strategy, shooter, and even construction-based VR games that could also make the transition.
Now, it seems like something of a leap from simple, in-home and entertainment-related applications to large-scale architecture and engineering. However, given the above notes on where AR is now, might these areas - and by extension, bridge design - also be part of the near future of the tech?
The answer is almost certainly yes. Augmented reality may be primarily associated with relatively simple, in-home applications like home design programs and gaming apps, but it’s widely expected to be used for bigger and more important purposes in the near future. In fact, it’s specifically been discussed as a potential game-changer for construction. There are multiple uses for AR in construction even now, including virtual project planning, automated measurements, project modifications, on-site project information availability, and more. We haven’t yet heard of many examples of these uses being applied specifically to bridge engineering, but it seems like a matter of time.
For those who may still be fuzzy on how exactly this works, it’s actually fairly easy to explain. AR can work with something like planning a home design or visualizing an animated slot machine game because it exists to place virtual renderings in the real world around us. For now most of the opportunities to do this come through our phones - but in short time, they'll come through AR goggles and glasses, which makes the tech more versatile. It will be easier to use it out in the real world, and with much larger applications.
This means people working on a construction project - or a bridge specifically - will be able to put on AR goggles and see the project with virtual augmentations. These might include visible data and information in one’s field of vision; they could mean a thorough blueprint of a bridge is projected onto the empty space where it’s ultimately being built; they could even provide instructions for smaller pieces of a project, plugged into an app of sorts and displayed for practical use.
In time this could change the ways in which bridges are designed and built. And it may just be that even the extraordinary constructions we’ve already seen this century are just the beginning of a wave of impressive innovation.