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Mobile Augmented Reality in AEC

Handheld Mobile Augmented Reality is the Swiss Army pocket knife of Augmented Reality. Sure it doesn?t have the locational precision and model detail of headmounted Augmented Reality (see our last article), but give it a break?it?s running off your tablet?s camera.

So how is Handheld Augmented Reality different from Headmounted?Augmented Reality? And how is it being used in the AEC industry? We?ll cover how we?re using ARKit in construction and architecture. And why even though mobile Augmented Reality is just a bit worse at everything than headmounted?display, it?s just too damn handy to ignore.?

Augmented Reality – The Basics for AEC

Simply put: Augmented reality combines the view of digital models with the real world.

When it comes to visualization of future built conditions, Augmented Reality is the best tool for the job. With Augmented Reality, you can overlay spatially accurate data, create immersive presentations, and scan your location.

Overlay spatially accurate data

Our current Augmented Reality landscape is comprised of headmounted?display and mobile or handheld Augmented Reality. Headmounted Augmented Reality, which we discussed in detail the last 2 weeks, uses a combination of sensors and cameras to create a 3D mesh and locate you within it?think Hololens and Magic Leap. Handheld Augmented Reality, also referred to as Mobile Augmented Reality uses the device?s camera to locate in space.

Even though it?s not as powerful as the Magic Leap or Hololens, Mobile Augmented Reality is incredibly capable and versatile?from the design office to the construction site.

Where you?ve got a lot of users, or where a headset is simply too much friction for the job, mobile Augmented Reality experiences can provide essential data in context and visualization for construction and architecture.

Examples of how we?re using it with our clients:

Augmented Architecture Models and Site Plans

We have always loved architectural models?and you have probably heard by now that Simon was head of the model shop at ZGF for years. Architectural models are expensive to create and often require many complex iterations to show the right design detail. Enter: Augmented reality.

With? Augmented Reality, we can create digital overlays of design options on a simplified model. Or not?keep the physical model as simple or as complex as you like and use augmented reality to tell the building?s story.

Augmented models allow you to do what mundane models can?t?from overlaying circulation diagrams to building elements and even metadata. Models are easily understood by laypeople and digital overlays help designers better communicate their designs.

While augmented models could be done on a headset, we found a mobile Augmented Reality experience was ideal when revealing a new building model to a large group of stakeholders. We could have several iPads viewing the model at once. Presenting on the go, we used a printed site plan as the ultimate portable presentation tool.

With improvements to ARKit, we are now able to use the model itself through android and ios development as a marker. It?s pretty slick if we say so ourselves. For early access to?augmented model kit information subscribe to our list. It?s where we will make the announcement.

Magic Windows

Mobile Augmented Reality is also a great way to show large groups a glimpse into the future of a project, right on the project site. We?ve been calling the iPad a magic window. We?ve been using it to visualize exterior views, plan for patterned walkways, display interior design options, and orient employees to a new campus.

Advantages to Handheld Augmented Reality Over Headmounted Augmented Reality

Less Friction

In some use cases, headmounted?display is too much friction–from needing safety glasses to not removing your hard hat. Mobile Augmented Reality can be an easy, accessible way to enjoy some of the benefits of spatial computing. It?s not as immersive as headmounted, but it?s a huge step toward better communication. We use it whenever we want to enhance a tactile thing?a brochure, a plan, or a physical model.

Prolific and Familiar

Where headsets are expensive, more rare, and unfamiliar to a lot of our clients, with android and ios development, Augmented Reality?enabled Smart Phones are cheap, prolific, and familiar. Arguably, the best Augmented Reality device is the one you have on you.

Another Solution for Outdoor Use

Much of what our clients want to do with Augmented Reality is necessarily done outside, while buildings, roads, and bridges are being constructed. None of the Augmented Reality smart glasses are currently designed for outdoor use (though we?re working around that). Another way of working outdoors is simply using mobile Augmented Reality which is designed to work reasonably well in broad daylight.

Handheld mobile augmented reality for the planning, design, and construction of utility renovations. Using ARKit on iPad Pro and Unity3D.

Fashionable People

Some people worry about ?looking silly? in headmounted Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality. Luckily for us, these same people will happily walk around the room with an iPad investigating design details that are invisible to the rest of us. Tablets are normal now. Headsets aren?t there yet.

You?ll never see us shy away from wearing any headset in public, but some of our clients in the C-suite aren?t so sure. And frankly, we can?t blame them. Whether from a fear of looking silly (spoiler alert: you will. Embrace it.) or because they wear glasses and taking them off to go into Augmented Reality is a pain?headsets simply aren?t for everyone.


We predict consumer attitudes around headsets will improve as the hardware becomes more stylish and ubiquitous. 5G will enable edge computing and may allow for lightweight edge computing glasses that are just a display with sensors while the computing takes place in the cloud. The bicycle was once weird. We?re not too worried. But in the meantime, holding your phone to see Augmented Reality models in the real world is an easy way for anyone to access the benefits of spatial computing on a project.


The most fun way to get a good understanding of Augmented Reality’s capabilities is to check out the newest android and ios development apps in consumer AR applications on the App Store. There are a few devoted to measuring and model placement, but none have done as well as the Augmented Reality LEGO app.

LEGO AR-Studio? app?shows how to use Augmented Reality to design from a predetermined kit of parts?you know, like LEGOS. Take that concept and apply it to construction, manufacturing, and interior design.

Augmented Reality App called LEGO AR-Studio?

We wear many hats when it comes to finding you the perfect visual-spatial solution, one of those hats is being a mobile app development company who creates Augmented Reality Apps for Apple and Android that are purpose-built for your project or presentation. Contact us or stay connected to our newsletter to learn more about XR in AEC.

Interested in learning more about Augmented Reality in real life practice? Check out a Magic Leap test we did while traveling in Helsinki and let us know what you think.

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#augmentedreality #MaretThatcher #mobileAR

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