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The evolution of human machine interfaces and their future potential for construction

Human-machine interfaces are always changing

An interface, at its simplest, is a method of interaction between two entities. The more different these two entities are, the more important a well-designed interface becomes. And in order for an interface to do its job well, usability is key. 

Human-machine interfaces (HMIs), which refer to the way we interact with devices, are always changing. Today’s touch screen phones, for example, prove we’ve come a long way from the first huge computers, which took up an entire room and had an interface consisting solely of a keyboard and a line of text on a plain screen. Likewise, current solutions are sure to continue evolving well beyond what we’re familiar with now.

It all started with simple text terminals

Throughout the history of software, the way we've used devices for work has constantly evolved. If we go all the way back to the early 80s, for example, a computer consisted of merely a keyboard and a display with very simple graphics. 

Over the next ten years, technology progressed rapidly. Graphical interfaces replaced rows of text, and computer mice made it easier to navigate on screen and give commands. By the early 90s, it was already standard for companies like Tekla to have graphical workstations with mouses and keyboards. But then, even after such quick advancement, interfaces remained nearly the same for the next 8 years.

Touch screens changed the game

The very first touch screens, PDAs and mobile devices emerged in the late 90s. Touch made work more hands-on, but also impacted UI design, as it had to be optimized for small screens. Android and iPhone changed the game in the late 2000s, when they came out with a small and easy-to-use touch screens. Consequently, people expected to have information available through mobile devices at all times. 

From mobile, hands free was the next natural HMI development. Trimble was among the first companies in the world to roll out a commercial product using HoloLens. Because it freed us from the limitations of the flatscreen and allowed for creating and interacting with virtual elements within a physical realm in full 3D, it brought about a whole new paradigm of interacting with data, computers and applications.

Future solutions will fully integrate data to actions

In the next 5 to 10 years, innovators will be working with mixed reality tools which have nearly invisible interfaces. They’ll be able to access data and complete actions with minimal effort, using, for example, lightweight headsets or even bracelets that work by detecting neural actions. 

These kinds of HMIs will make it possible to complete tasks faster, iterate in real time and share data easily between each stage of the construction process. 

Constant development of interfaces improves construction workflows 

The way we operate devices has changed tremendously over the years, and things only keep getting better. With every HMI development, it gets easier and faster to work with digital devices. What’s more, they’re dramatically improving project workflows overall—giving commands, transfering data and operating machinery are becoming more and more effortless every day. 

Big benefits like improved productivity, less waste material and fewer errors in various project stages are making construction work more cost effective, too. As interfaces evolve, using the software behind them and getting the most out of the latest technology becomes more rewarding. It won’t be long until we look back and wonder why we ever had to use our hands at all to work with technology.