Trimble Technology Lab is “heritage and future” for Purdue Polytechnic, university's construction programs

Purdue President Mung Chiang (right) speaks with Purdue's leading faculty contact for Trimble, Nicholas Dib, about how the company's software is used in extended-reality headsets. (Purdue University photo/Zach Rodimel)

On March 1, Trimble Inc.—a multi-billion dollar technology company that provides novel hardware, software and more to a wide range of industries—joined Purdue Polytechnic and university President Mung Chiang for the dedication of the Trimble Technology Lab in Dudley Hall.

Trimble is a global presence in almost all industries that touch the “built environment,” a broad term that includes practically any human-made infrastructure.

“This is in an ideal location on campus,” Chiang said. “You have some of the best foot traffic at Purdue surrounding this lab. Some of the most talented students and faculty will see this place every day. They will want to get involved in innovating the built environment because of what Trimble has provided here.”

Dean Castro (left), Chiang and Dib speak at the Trimble Technology Lab inauguration. (Purdue University photo/Zach Rodimel)

What the lab does

The Trimble Technology Lab was created in partnership with Purdue Polytechnic’s School of Construction Management Technology (CMT)—with Nicholas Dib as the main facilitator among the School’s faculty—and is designed to bring some of the company’s best and most versatile tools into the classroom environment for students endeavoring to work as experts in the built environment.

“Just from Trimble’s initial contributions, you can start to see that the technology they’ve already provided supports student work as well as some very high-level research,” Dib said.

“We can use this new hardware and software for smaller-scale individual work, or for some genuinely massive projects. And again, this is just an initial contribution on their part. What we have here today is part of a longer-scale rollout that will evolve as our partnership continues.”

Capstones and student work

Sally Jones, senior, demonstrates her capstone with Trimble-provided Hololens and software. (Purdue University photo/Zach Rodimel)

One such individual project was featured during the inauguration; a senior capstone demonstration courtesy of construction engineering management (CEM) senior Sally Jones. (CEM is a major in the College of Engineering. Dib emphasized that the new lab is going to be “accessible and valuable to many people across campus. Anyone involved in construction at any level, student or faculty, can benefit from this lab.”)

Jones, equipped with a Microsoft Hololens headset attached to a hardhat, used Trimble’s software to display her 3D bridge and ramp blueprint. “This is a model of a real location I used over at S-BRITE, which is a kind of infrastructure museum we use for our builds,” Jones explained.

Jones then expanded the 3D model to a realistic size using programmed hand controls, revealing that the extended-reality headset had allowed her to map her blueprint onto real space. “You can go from a birds-eye view of your 3D model—something that can fit onto a tabletop, basically—to a realistically-sized simulation which is so large that you can actually walk onto the bridge I designed, look down from different vantage points, and explore the space.”



Faculty research

A larger, more collaborative project came courtesy of CMT faculty member Kyubyung Kang. Kang revealed that he and a team of PhD students used Trimble laser scanning products to scan the entire outdoor environment of the Purdue campus over a period of two weeks.

“We used the Trimble X7 scanner… in terms of the labor and time cost, the process was remarkably easy,” Kang said. “With the X7, we could set it down on a sidewalk, hit a button and walk away.” From there, the scanner rotated 360 degrees along both a horizontal and vertical access, taking countless laser-based measurements which accurately mapped the distance from the device, as well as the color of the surface touched by the laser.

Kyubyung Kang demonstrates a Trimble-enabled full-size model of Purdue University. (Purdue University photo/Zach Rodimel)

With some data compression—a process Kang is now working on—this could create a functional true-to-life model of the entire Purdue campus, complete with  construction details (Kang showed how Trimble software allowed them to scan for specific details around campus, such as the location of every individual fire hydrant). 

“This can save so much time for processes like confirming if a building is up to code, for example. Trimble has scanning technology that allows you to map 3D blueprints onto empty space, and then to check your blueprint against the reality once your structure is actually built.”

The importance of Trimble’s partnership

Purdue Polytechnic’s dean, Daniel Castro, stated that he had first heard of Trimble in the late 90s, during his own career in the construction industry. “I think what [Trimble’s] technology will allow us to do is incredible,” Castro said. “And to see how it has evolved over the decades is also amazing. I am so proud that Purdue Polytechnic is joining Trimble’s group of partners in higher education, which is a selective group of 30 different institutions globally.”

Jones demonstrates how a 3D model can be examined in real space using Trimble's software combined with a Hololens. (Purdue University photo/Zach Rodimel)

President Chiang pointed to Purdue’s “one brick higher” philosophy as an indicator of Purdue's strategic alignment with Trimble, which has become an especially dominant player in the construction industry since the company’s founding in 1978.

“As [Dean Castro,] who is an expert in this field has made clear, Trimble is both the heritage and the future for this university,” Chiang said.

Trimble’s education program leader, Mike Engh, stated that the company seeks partnerships with universities that feature a “productive, proactive faculty member as the main point of contact,” specifying that Dib has worked hard on establishing a Trimble partnership since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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