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The Practical and Purposeful Application of Augmented Reality from a Contractor’s Perspective

Excavator on left with in cab image on right

Customer Profile: Survey Management Solutions (SMS) is at the forefront of surveying solutions through the technology and equipment the company uses. SMS is a leader of innovation in Australia for pioneering and investing in the latest technology.

Business Challenge: Demonstrate the value of augmented reality to surveyors and construction crews.



  • Improved operator confidence
  • Reduced risk of hitting underground utilities
  • Better decision making
  • More streamlined workflows, particularly when issues arise

Trimble Earthworks Grade Control Platform in the cab of an excavator

Survey Management Solutions (SMS) has built a reputation for its ability to handle challenging infrastructure projects in a timely and cost-effective manner. That skillset is, in part, due to its commitment to investing in and applying advanced technology and state-of-the-art equipment to deliver time and cost savings and truly innovative solutions.
For SMS, augmented reality, one of the industry’s most anticipated technologies, can directly improve workflows when put in the hands of surveyors and the cabs of heavy equipment. 

Workflow Visualization
Industry experts have predicted that AR will be one of the top technologies to watch in construction, for its ease of use and expanding integration into commercial solutions such as smartphones. According to a report, the global augmented reality and virtual reality market is projected to account for a revenue of $1.2 trillion in 2030, rising from $37.0 billion in 2019—that’s a CAGR of 42.9% during the forecast period (2020-2030). 

Much of that growth is likely to be in the construction space, where technology adept owners and project teams are using it to better visualize design intent relative to real-world conditions, simulate changes and adapt more readily to onsite conditions. 

For SMS, a company that prides itself as an industry innovation leader, the early introduction to augmented reality (AR) has been through workflow visualization technology, such as Trimble SiteVision. SiteVision incorporates a high precision (centimeter accuracy) GNSS with an electronic distance measurement (EDM) laser rangefinder that works with a smartphone’s AR capabilities. The AR application overlays 3D digital content with a camera-captured live image. The sensors track the movement of the system and adjust accordingly.

SMS bought its first system two years ago when SiteVision was first released and has since invested in many more. Today, every foreman has a SiteVision system that is used regularly to assure construction is proceeding according to spec, take measurements and record information that can be fed back to the construction and survey team to support decision making. 
Travis Gains, Business Unit Manager - SMS, explained, “Before we start any activity, we require a pre-construction commencement walk with engineers and stakeholders that includes SiteVision and ground penetrating radar (GPR), so that everyone understands the requirements for the project, has clarity about what’s underground and recognizes the potential risks.” 
The use of SiteVision and GPR before, and now during construction, is essential to reducing the chance of hitting utilities on projects. 
“It’s standard practice to use the system on every project, but especially on complex projects, where damaging utilities is extremely costly, creates project delays for necessary repairs and can damage our hard-earned reputation as a quality contractor. For us, SiteVision is an essential risk mitigation strategy,” said Gains.
Moving data back and forth from the field is largely accomplished with Trimble WorksManager and Trimble Business Center. “As soon as we get a new design or updated survey of underground assets in Trimble Business Center, we can get it to the machine operators very quickly through WorksManager. No more USBs or trips to the jobsite.”
The success of AR-enabled SiteVision raised expectations about the potential of AR on machines.

Excavating with Precision
This led to a partnership between SMS, SITECH Construction Systems and Australian-based manufacturer Webbair to develop 3D avoidance technology. Introduced to the market in 2022, a civil construction company, working closely with SMS, introduced 3D avoidance technology on an excavator on one of its projects in Melbourne. The technology relies on a digital map of utilities prepared by the SMS survey team. If the excavator attachment gets too close to a defined ‘avoidance zone’, the onboard sensors restrict and then immobilize the digger, thus minimizing the chance of costly subsurface strikes and project delays while improving crew safety. 
According to Gains, the operators also receive real-time updates on underground services from surveyors working remotely, which allows work to continue without needing to wait for new data. Gains explains that allowing for the operator or supervisor to add in any new hazards or high-risk areas on the fly without requiring them to be defined digitally is potentially one of the biggest benefits of the system, which was demanded from the market at the start of the due diligence phase.

The next step was introducing AR in the cab. As part of the Trimble Earthworks AR Camera and a Workflow Optimisation Demonstration Program facilitated by SITECH Construction Systems and Trimble, the civil construction company also took the opportunity to see how precision grade control, 3D avoidance technology and AR combine to support operator actions.

Camera mounted on excavator
During the demonstration program, SITECH mounted a camera on the outside of an excavator with the 3D avoidance technology on a project in Melbourne. The Trimble Earthworks display, the model is overlaid onto the existing ground giving the operator a better understanding of the work that needs to be done. Visibility of the bucket gives operators better situational awareness to be able to keep surrounding people and objects safe.
“This is the next level of integration and a great addition to the excavators,” confirmed Gains. “We strongly believe that the quicker an operator gets an understanding of the job, the faster the build. With Trimble Earthworks and AR, our operators see an alignment in 3D. The software also provides options for multiple views. Overall, the addition of AR raises the level of awareness relative to the design model. We also think it will be essential for getting less experienced operators up to speed on the job.”
That raised awareness is particularly valuable for the civil construction company, where some of its projects have large numbers of underground service requirements in tight work areas. According to the SMS team, when an issue arises, they can quickly get the utilities modeled accurately and back to the operator to keep work progressing. 
“A big part of my job is to push innovation,” said Gains. “We’re a big investor in technology and we’re always looking for innovative solutions and want to lead the industry. As a civil contractor, we always want to do things safer, faster and more cost effectively. We’re definitely going to invest in any solution that can help us get a better understanding of the job and also help the crews build faster, safer and with greater precision. Our workflow visualization system, the 3D avoidance system and the Trimble Earthworks AR camera are prime examples of that focus.”