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AR and VR May Be a New Reality for Building Management

By Jim Romeo | Mar 7, 2024
Image Source/ Schneider Electric
Computer scientists from the University of California San Diego and Carnegie Mellon University have collaborated to develop an innovative system called BRICK that merges real-world sensing with virtual reality to streamline building maintenance in commercial buildings.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are finding their strides in many places within industrial sectors. Recent research points to its use as an effective tool for building facilities and maintenance managers.

Computer scientists from the University of California San Diego and Carnegie Mellon University have collaborated to develop an innovative system called BRICK. The system merges real-world sensing with virtual reality to streamline building maintenance in commercial buildings. It uses a handheld device with sensors to monitor temperature, carbon dioxide levels and airflow, along with a virtual reality environment connected to the building’s electronic control system.

Building personnel can use the handheld device to scan a location to create a virtual reality version of the space, which they can then access on a smartphone or laptop. This mixed-reality environment overlays sensor data and metadata onto the virtual space, allowing managers to quickly identify issues and gather relevant data.

The system will help simplify building operations by providing immediate access to sensor data and hardware locations. Currently, managers must consult building management databases and gather additional data manually, leading to inefficiencies and inaccuracies. With BRICK, managers can access all necessary information on-site in one mixed-reality environment.

The system also enables fault detection in building equipment, such as air-control valves and handling systems. Future improvements may include sensors that connect directly to smartphones, allowing occupants to participate in managing local environments and further simplifying building operations.

The handheld device was built by a team at Carnegie Mellon, while the back end and VR components were developed by researchers at UC San Diego. Accuracy in the VR environment was achieved by using AprilTags, similar to QR codes, in each room for recalibration.

How can electrical contractors use this technology?

Aside from this research, work on VR and AR technologies is ongoing for building maintenance and management, offering innovative solutions to enhance productivity, safety and sustainability in the built environment.

In one study published in Advanced Engineering Informatics, researchers developed a VR-based training simulator for building maintenance workers. The simulator allowed workers to practice tasks such as HVAC system troubleshooting and electrical repairs in a virtual environment, leading to improved performance and reduced error rates during real-world maintenance activities.

Another study published in the Proceedings of the 2022 Human Factors in Engineering 66th International Annual Meeting evaluated the use of AR-enabled smart glasses for remote assistance in the architect, engineering and construction industry. The researchers found that AR technology in one of the studies they looked at in their meta-analysis reduced the number of errors and reduced the performance time to completion when compared to paper-based collaboration. 

A research project conducted at the University of Cambridge explored the application of drones equipped with AR systems for building inspection. The study demonstrated that AR overlays of structural data and sensor readings enhanced the accuracy and efficiency of building condition assessments, particularly for large and complex structures.

Header image: Schneider Electric

About The Author

ROMEO is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, Va. He focuses on business and technology topics. Find him at www.JimRomeo.net.

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