PEOPLE | Oct 18, 2018

AI, data and Augmented Reality in construction: interview with Alberto Tono

The story of a young Italian engineer in the Silicon Valley

Alberto Tono, a construction engineer-architect from Padua, born in 1991, is one of many examples of young Italian talents who are engaged in important research and development projects abroad on Artificial Intelligence and Mixed Reality. After several post-graduate professional experiences, Alberto Tono joined the research and development team for Studio HOK, an integrated design company with about 2,000 employees in 23 cities.

“I work on developing applications that take advantage of BIM (Building Information Modeling) models, namely the digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of an object in the construction sector, for transferring this information into virtual environments such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). In Silicon Valley I am realizing the dream of my life,” says Alberto, currently involved in applying Deep Learning Artificial Intelligence to the world of construction and building.

“I had the opportunity to work with MIT Media Lab and NASA for Mars 2020. I have participated in many hackathons and sat next to the best American minds. I have been lucky enough to win some competitions of this kind, but above all to learn from the many defeats,” says an enthusiastic Alberto who is setting up two non-profit associations in San Francisco, with the aim of supporting the development of AI in the construction sector, in addition to the Italian Deep Learning Italia, a community made up of about a hundred experts who organize meet-ups, study sessions and competitions useful for jointly facing up to the professional problems encountered in testing new applications of Artificial Intelligence.

BIM: What are the future developments?

“Currently this model is used for integrated and lean design, but soon it will come to BKM, Building Knowledge Modeling, that is we will have Artificial Intelligence available that will provide support in design, memorizing all the lessons learned useful for improving the decision-making phase with predictions and classifications”.

What are the advantages of Immersive Reality in the building Industry?

“The proliferation of new digital tools and technologies gives us the opportunity to completely innovate the construction and architecture sector: immersive reality and Deep Learning break the traditional pattern and completely change workflows.

Immersive Reality means that technology which consists of the superimposition of digital information on real objects, useful for better explaining some concepts, reducing the cognitive load necessary for the observer to make them their own. In Ready Player One we see the potential of this technology which allows us to discover all that information around us hidden by a “digital veil”. Immersive Reality applied to constructions makes it easier to examine data coming from IoT sensors such as temperature and humidity, for example through overlapping color maps on the façade of buildings. In this way, in the restoration of buildings, it is possible to immediately identify areas that require maintenance and urgent interventions.

As described by Thomas Khun, all these innovations contribute to shaping a “Paradigm Shift” that can guide investigations in the absence of rules and standards. This paradigm will guide the transition from a 2D screen, where the model revolves around the user, to a 3D-based paradigm, in which all the information is anchored to a specific point in the real world, with the user interacting with it.

The idea behind our research is that of Human-Centric Design, which aims to guarantee people the best life experience in the building they occupy”.

Mixed Reality: from a marriage proposal to support for terminally-ill children

“My wife and I Hannah Luxenberg are the protagonists of the first marriage proposal in the world done in Augmented Reality, on which various Silicon Valley engineers have worked with the ultimate goal of promoting these technologies and putting them at the service of people. The next step is to organize the first ever marriage in Augmented Reality. Hannah is a film-maker who, like me, is passionate about these technologies, but she is also a volunteer in hospitals where she assists children with terminal cancer. The experiments we do are aimed at applying these technologies to children who could have the opportunity to live immersive experiences. There is still a lot to do in this area I have to say and we, together with many communities of developers and enthusiasts, are trying to make our contribution”.

What are the impacts of technologies in the building industry?

“I do not have much confidence in this sector with regards to technological development, but if we think about the damage and problems of this industry also in terms of environmental impact, we realize how important it is to make an effort to exploit tools that can bring about improvements”.

Sonia Montegiove