We knew headset computing was important… but we weren't sure why.
We knew that new computing platforms powered by head-mounted displays could enable new, practical innovations right now. We spent a while searching for that practical innovation - we looked in our backyard, at university admissions, and even sports training.
We chipped away at the wrong problems until we found the right one… but we still needed to find the right solution.
We found the right problem within our network. A co-worker’s father was a VP at a general contractor and our lead investor was building a house. Both of them had headaches overseeing the work on the job site and someone was always traveling – either members of their team or themselves – to reach the site and solve a problem.
Our first attempt didn’t look far enough ahead. We made an MVP app for the Samsung Gear VR that would allow the contractor and our investor to view 360 videos recorded on the job site by an onsite foreman or superintendent. It wasn’t quite right. Processing the videos was a pain and the 360 VR experience was disorienting. Our “eureka” moment came when a user asked how they could send feedback back to the super. We were on the verge of adding some capability to record a voicemail back over the video when we realized we needed something better, something interactive – we needed the next version of a video call.
Our vision developed alongside our solution.
A couple key requirements crystallized right away. This solution needed two-way audio communication and a way for the person offsite to see what the person onsite saw. The HoloLens could enable both and promised the untapped potential of headset AR. Our initial MVP started with a Google search for “how to sync voice and video in real time” and after more than a few nights spent programming into the early morning, we were trialing that MVP with the early contacts who taught us what we would need to change their jobs for the better. A key requirement from the start was accessibility. It would be hard enough to require one person to learn to wear a headset – IMAJION needed to work in the browser for everyone else but still deliver to everyone the key benefits powered by augmented reality.
Context was key.
We realized the job site is critical context to decision-making on construction projects, but it isn’t the only critical context. We improved ‘augmented reality’ for our users by adding capabilities to share and view project documentation, like drawings, with everyone in conferences, bringing the plans table from the field office into AR and the browser. We cemented another key pillar of IMAJION, seamless integration to existing project management tooling. Newground already stored all their plans in Procore – to make this tool useful, we needed to integrate directly.
The biggest challenge was building it right.
We learned a few more lessons about what our tool would need that only raised the bar for what we had to achieve. A decision on site is seldom made between two people – we would need to support group conferencing. Most critically, we needed to give people a way to reach into the site without being there. IMAJION needed to replace walking up to the wall and chalking out a utility layout or getting on a stepladder for an overhead measurement. We spent Spring 2017 developing our patented technology to place 3D annotations on a remote site in real-time pixel-perfect to a user’s click or tap on a video of that site through an AR device. We experimented with 2D overlays first, but they weren’t good enough. This was one case of many where we chose between the easier path and the right path to build the solution our users would need.
These problems aren't small or unique, and we are poised to solve them for us all.
Each time we brought ProjectxR to a new potential user, the scope of the problem we were solving seemed to grow. Everyone in construction knows the challenges of coordinating between the field and the office - but it turns out everyone in engineering knows it too. We solved our own remote communication problems when we took the company fully remote in Spring 2018 and have since relied ProjectxR to operate the company.
Now, every industry is experiencing the challenges of coordinating projects with distributed teams. When we publicly released ProjectxR for sale at AutoDesk University 2019, we were overwhelmed by crowds at the booth waiting to try augmented reality telepresence for themselves. The COVID-19 pandemic has rushed the construction industry into the remote work revolution, but it's also highlighted how far from perfect the remote conferencing solutions that emerged over the last 20 years still are. IMAJION's next twelve months will define our innovations as the baseline to perfect remote communication over the next 20 years.