Research from the project ARTHUR could help planners breathe realism into their shared working environments through the use of augmented reality.
Augmented reality (AR) or mixed reality research aims to develop technologies that allow users to mix or overlay the real world with computer generated 2D or 3D virtual objects. Unlike virtual reality that replaces the physical world, AR enhances the physical reality by integrating virtual objects into the physical world as we see it. In large-scale construction projects, architects are involved from the initial rough sketch to final acceptance. Throughout this process draft designs are presented, discussed, improved or rejected. At important milestones this discussion is based on physical models, initially made from cardboard or polystyrene, at later stages from wood, metal and transparent plastics.
For the final presentation of major design projects, just building these models may take several months. However, physical models are not only expensive and time-consuming to build, but also cumbersome when it comes to incorporating suggested modifications. Consequences are visible only at the new meeting days or weeks later, thus the whole project may be significantly delayed.
ARTHUR is the first tool for architects that lets them immediately modify their models. Instead of physical models, in their review meetings they can now use virtual, computer-generated models that are displayed using semi-transparent head-mounted displays, and that appear to be right on the planning table.
The virtual models are complemented by novel tangible interfaces: real physical objects are representing the virtual objects - as soon as such a physical placeholder is moved, the virtual model is moved correspondingly. A pen or a finger may be used like a "magic wand" to select and manipulate a part of a virtual building. Simple gestures control complex operations. Technical basis for this is computer vision through cameras attached to each head-mounted display; no additional sensors, cabling etc. are required.
A particularly useful feature is the close integration of ARTHUR's virtual models with simulation models, e.g., of pedestrian movement patterns or dissipation of heat from sunlight: when a virtual model is relocated, the resulting changes in buyer streams or room temperatures can be evaluated immediately. In a similar way, ARTHUR can be integrated with CAD systems, allowing architects to switch seamlessly between the two design environments.
The ARTHUR project is funded in part through the European IST program.