Newswise — Seeing is believing and, for a South Dakota State University researcher, that means being able to see what isn’t there yet.

Assistant Professor Yilei Huang of the Department of Construction and Operations Management is using a mixed reality headset to “see” where to position conduits that protect wiring in a commercial building.

To do this, he will work with an electrical contractor for the new Avera Health building on Louise and 69th in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to test the new technology through funding from the Thomas Glavinich ELECTRI International Early Career Award. The award is designed to encourage young researchers whose work meets the needs of the electrical industry.

Electrical wiring in a commercial building must be easy to access, so tube-like conduits are used to protect the wires, Huang explained. These conduits are installed in tight spaces between ceiling and the floor or roof among all the other building systems, such as ventilation, water and fire protection. In the past, whichever contractor got to the site first got to use the space first and other contractors had to work their way around it, but now the construction industry organizes planning to improve the building process.

Detailed 3D models show where electrical conduits and ventilation ducts should be installed. However, to determine whether pipes and ductwork are correctly positioned, “the best option for contractors was to actually bring a computer or iPad to the site and compare what’s on the screen with the site itself,” he said. The mixed reality headset changes that.

The device looks like a hardhat with goggles. To demonstrate the device, Huang puts on the hardhat, pulls up the software by touching “buttons in the air” in front of him and selects a program that projects a miniature 3D model of a house “virtually” positioned on his desk. The house stays in place as the user moves around the room viewing the back, front and sides of the structure using the mixed reality headset.

“Mixed reality is different than virtual reality,” he said. “With virtual reality, you cannot see the actual world, just the digital content. With mixed reality, you see what is in front of you plus the digital content.”

Huang will pull the electrical conduit layout from a 3D model of all the piping and ductwork in the new Avera building and adapt it to the mixed reality headset software. Then the electrical contractor, Thompson Electrical Company, will use the device to view the electrical layout projected on the construction site to plan for the conduit installation and verify the conduits are correctly positioned.

This will allow Huang to collect data on how the device works in an actual site environment. “We will see what the best way is to use it and identify any problems,” he said.

Through this project, Huang hopes to move this mixed reality technology a step closer to becoming an effective tool to improve the efficiency of the construction industry. “Electrical conduit is only the beginning of the different building systems it can be applied to on a construction site.”