No Plans, No Problem: Building with AR

An examination of an AEC Augmented Reality Proof-of-Concept with creator Cody Nowak of Martin Bros.

How did a dry wall subcontractor achieve one of the most exciting breakthroughs in augmented reality? A better question might even be, “Why did a dry wall subcontractor achieve one of the most exciting breakthroughs in augmented reality?” The fact is, though AEC is often maligned within the context of innovation, Los Angeles firm Martin Bros. represents the technological shift within the industry, in which BIM and VDC are rapidly becoming as crucial to specialty project partners as they are to the lead GCs and architects.

Southern California dry wall subcontractor Martin Bros. has been involved in a variety of high-profile projects throughout the city of Los Angeles, including the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX, and the culture within the company has always been future-forward. Martin Bros. created their own on-site BIM CAVE (Computer Aided Virtual Environment), which allowed the company’s VDC | BIM Manager, Cody Nowak, to spend the past couple of years developing VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) solutions for the firm. The research and development recently culminated in the pinnacle of his team’s research—yielding quite possibly one of the most exciting innovations to hit the AEC tech sector in the past decade.

The Breakthrough

The AR milestone achieved by the team led by Nowak and Scott Montgomerie, CEO/CTO of Scope AR, resulted in a successfully completed proof of concept that involved building a bathroom pod frame—without the use of construction plans. The frame was completed using only a Microsoft HoloLens and a rendered model, marking a huge breakthrough in the building process of construction and ushering in a new era of potential for this new AR innovation.

“Utilizing the Microsoft Surface Book, I made model edits in Autodesk Revit to the bathroom pod which I then pushed to the Scope AR platform. Tethering the HoloLens to the Surface Book I am able to install the Scope AR platform over Wi-Fi via the HoloLens Windows Device Portal.”

– Cody Nowak, Martin Bros. VDC | BIM Manager

With the HoloLens superimposing the augmented reality pod design on the top and bottom of a frame, a builder followed the scaled 3D projection seen through his HoloLens headset to complete physical construction. Among other exciting aspects, this process involved direct interaction between the AR world and the real world, delivering fascinating, tangible results.

“We realized that there was that opportunity with augmented reality quite a few years ago, but the hardware and the software was not there yet,” explains Nowak, who is also a longtime tech proponent responsible for creating the AECX community events which debuted in Los Angeles this past year. “When I started working with the HoloLens, I realized it was the missing piece of what we needed to finally achieve our goal of AR building with no plans involved.” Aside from some proprietary information not yet fit for release, Nowak and Martin Bros. recently gave a tour and a step-by-step tutorial to Bluebeam’s VP of Strategic Development Sasha Reed and StrXur editorial staff, who filmed the experience to give the AEC world a firsthand look into this exciting innovation.

The Reality

Speculation for the potential of this innovation quickly ran rampant on social media after Nowak posted information that the team had finally succeeded by building the bathroom pod frame. Still, Martin Bros. remains extremely steadfast in the belief that while this is an extremely exciting proof of concept, it is just that, “a proof of concept,” and should be regarded as such. “I believe we are still 5-10 years from BIM truly collaborating with the mixed reality space, but this is still very exciting,” says Nowak. “It was a team effort. Having the leadership that we do at Martin Bros. allowed me to reach out to other people to work with on the possibilities of AR and BIM collaboration. The dynamic allowed me to provide the BIM content while Scott Montgomerie from Scope AR was able to add the development side of creating the step-by-step process. We couldn’t have done this without Scott’s team.” Nowak also gives credit to the VR and AR community “HoloHack” events he attended as he began refining his ideas. “Those events were so important for me to be able to bounce ideas off of the right people.”

The Future

The HoloLens breakthrough has also resulted in a new horizon for Martin Bros. as a firm. With an unprecedented innovation already on their hands, all eyes will certainly be on this specialty contractor as they continue to develop and attempt to create innovative and viable solutions aimed at changing the AEC industry for years to come.

Read here to learn how one firm is innovating with Bluebeam Revu and VR on the jobsite.

Bluebeam’s Sasha Reed with Cody Nowak of Martin Bros.