Burns & McDonnell Develops Wearable AR Platform to Navigate On-Site Restrictions

Nov. 11, 2020
Hands-free, voice-activated wearable technology to keep projects moving where site access is limited because of COVID-19.

Burns & McDonnell developed a wearable assisted reality (AR) platform in partnership with RealWear hardware and Manitoba Hydro International’s VisualSpection software, with the pandemic challenging the construction, operation, and maintenance of critical infrastructure.

Using RealWear’s hard hat-mounted technology, the VisualSpection software platform allows project teams to communicate through live video conference calls from the field to remote team members, collect data, inspect components, manage asset inventories, and run tests remotely, all hands-free using voice commands.

“Hands-free, voice-activated wearable technology in a single solution from Burns & McDonnell can keep projects moving where site access is limited because of travel restrictions and health and safety orders," said John Olander, chief operating officer and president of the Transmission & Distribution Group, Burns & McDonnell. “Its benefits are huge amid today’s crisis, reducing the number of personnel needed in the field and allowing remote stakeholders to review critical details of each project phase.”

Since March, use of the technology through Burns & McDonnell has grown by more than 1000%. There are more than 1000 users through Burns & McDonnell, including clients such as FirstEnergy, an electric utility headquartered in Akron, Ohio.

During the pandemic, a FirstEnergy construction project group conducted a virtual site walk-down with an employee in Pennsylvania as a location guide. One person hosted a live video conference call with the hard hat-mounted camera, while another took still photos, and others participated online from Akron, Ohio; Chicago; and Kansas City, Missouri. Both the video conference call and organized photos were available for later reference for the FirstEnergy and Burns & McDonnell project teams. Questions that came up could be answered on the spot.

“Those viewing remotely are just as much a part of the walk-down as those who are at the substation,” said Ron Ferre, director, Transmission Project Management, FirstEnergy. “Looking beyond the current situation, this capability offers significant, long-term operational efficiency and cost advantages.”

A Burns & McDonnell engineering team first piloted the VisualSpection software in 2017. That project led to multiple successful pilot programs within Burns & McDonnell that tested multiple use cases based on client projects. In 2019, Burns & McDonnell became the exclusive architecture and engineering firm providing VisualSpection throughout the United States and Canada.

“For years, these technologies have offered advantages in design accuracy, safety, and efficiency as they create multiple benefits — both individually and collectively — through each project phase,” Olander said. “It means a lot to use innovative problem solving to now provide a platform to help solve critical challenges in the critical infrastructure industries.”

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