The days of 3D glasses bringing things to life in the real world are long past, and in its place, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have taken over for more than just entertainment.
First, let’s establish their differences. Virtual Reality offers a life-like experience by immersing the user in a computer-generated world. Augmented Reality works on the world around you. Construction is only one of the industries utilizing the technology to improve work processes, but the applications for this industry, in particular, are seemingly endless.
AR and VR have the potential to reduce delays due to rework, improve estimation, and synergize jobsite relationships through transparent communication between all stakeholders.
Why Virtual Reality is a Game Changer
Imagine being able to create a project from concept through project completion in such fine detail that problems can be resolved before they occur.
Virtual Reality lends the ultimate helping hand to design planning and project management through fully immersive technology. Users have full visibility into the digitally created content. When clients want to make changes, you can now show them the effects on the structure, on the timeline, and on the budget almost instantly. Rework drastically decreases. Guesstimating budgets becomes a thing of the past. Project planning and execution soars. An industry known for costly, time-consuming endeavors has revolutionized into an efficient, productive, and cost-effective market.
McCarthy saw the benefits of VR firsthand when constructing a new hospital. Practitioners were able to virtually walk through the structure and provide feedback on how exactly they would use the space. This allowed the McCarthy team to better plan where to put outlets, lighting, switches, and other key components long before the project began.
Another revolutionary benefit to VR? Training! Instead of simply using drills and hypotheticals to practice what to do IF a situation presents itself on the job, contractors can virtually experience jobsite dangers that require real-time reactions.
While this may not be feasible for every construction company just yet, advancements in technology will enable companies of varying sizes to begin to dip their toes into the virtual reality waters.
A Different Perspective: Augmented Reality
At a different point on the spectrum, Augmented Reality allows workers to pull up blueprints in their field of vision through a heads-up type display.
An example of this technology is featured in Redshift by Autodesk’s article on Augmented Reality. The DAQRI Smart Helmet is a wearable augmented reality system that allows builders to see through walls. Think of it as x-ray vision for your jobsite. Tools like this expedite the building process dramatically by reducing human error and costly mistakes.
AR aids the jobsite by:
- Assisting project management efforts
- Reducing time taken to resketch
- Boosting safety through preventative measures
- Incorporating client insights early
- Boosting accuracy
- Viewing spatial relationships between parts of buildings
- Envisioning potential problems during construction
Augmented reality streamlines processes across construction projects which speeds progress.
Still in the early stages, the Smart Helmet collaborated with Mortenson, who used the helmets on one of their projects. They were impressed with the ability to see where systems would be located, from electrical to plumbing and beyond. Project managers felt that it would be essential for coordination efforts between all the parties working a project. The benefits of the helmet for MEP left the team excited about the future of AR and IoT on the jobsite.
It will be a while before these expensive helmets ($15k in 2017) are widely implemented on jobsites, though DAQRI has also joined the smart lens movement.
Mixed Reality: The Holy Grail for AEC
A third category, often less talked about than VR and AR, is Mixed Reality (MR). It’s predicted to be the next major disruptor of reality tech in construction, especially because of its ability to be combined with BIM.
MR works similarly to Augmented Reality in the sense that a virtual object is projected into a real space. However, Mixed Reality enables the virtual components to be anchored to specific points that are scaled to the size of the actual object. A good example of a Mixed Reality device is the Microsoft Hololens, which is currently taking the construction world by storm.
This tech drastically reduces the potential for error through oversight, miscalculation, etc.
BIM + MR
Mixed Reality combined with Building Information Modeling has the capability to propel construction to the next level. By combining the program with the tech, models can be turned into holograms that are then overlaid onto the existing building environment and pinned into position (they won’t move around with your view the way AR projections do, so you can actually walk through the model, much like you would in a VR environment). This will eliminate the need for things like chalk lines, measurements, plan reviews, RFI submissions, etc.
Further, this integration has the capability to reflect changes made in the virtual environment back to the BIM model and vice versa. When put into practice, the Microsoft Hololens reduced the time to build for Martin Bros Construction by 30%. Watch the video here.
Virtually Building the Future
The possibilities for AR/VR/MR are far-reaching. Being able to save time, prevent waste, and expedite building all help solve chronic issues in the construction world. These tools are poised to be 2019’s secret weapon for productivity.