The Impact of VR and AR in the Construction Industry
The construction industry has historically lagged behind other leading industries in its adoption of technology. The story is more of the same with virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR, respectively). However, over the last couple of years and into 2018, we have seen the technology gain some traction, with large construction firms such as McCarthy vouching for the applicability and usefulness of the technology in the industry. The applications of VR and AR in construction are varied, with major implications in both the pre-construction and construction phases of projects.
Often times, a project can fall behind schedule and ultimately waste resources because of changes to the scope of work. The client may not be well-versed in understanding construction drawings and the intended design of the project may be unclear. VR provides an exciting solution to this issue in that it can place the client directly into their design in real time. The project’s architectural designer can create a three-dimensional render of the proposed space, and the client can then view the space and completely understand how the completed build will appear. This process streamlines the design review process, accelerating decision making and decreasing the amount of time spent in the design phase.
In terms of the marketing and project acquisition aspect of the industry, VR technology is also extremely applicable. Real estate developers can take advantage of the technology and secure funding for projects by presenting immersive designs to the project’s stakeholders and proving the concept’s viability. This opportunity is also available to architectural firms looking to bid on projects, allowing them to stand out amongst the competition that are still using 2D concept drawings to convey design intent.
There are significant opportunities to combine AR technology with building information modeling (BIM) to support jobsite activities. Through the use of specialized headsets or glasses, augmented reality allows the user to relay digital information glasses and place them into the user’s perspective of the real world. In this way, BIM models can be superimposed onto the jobsite in real-time, allowing the crew to work through design or construction process issues without having to consult the model offsite.
Companies such as DAQRI, with their innovative smart-helmet, are seeking to implement AR technology into several industries in unique and exciting ways. Use of the smart helmet, which relays a variety of information such as the model itself, plans, and other useful files, increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the user as all build information is readily accessible without having to consult paper documents. Combined with innovations in machine learning, there is also the possibility for such helmets to recognize safety hazards on the jobsite and relay the information back to workers for timely correction, improving safety.
One major impediment to widespread application of the technology in the industry is cost as a barrier to entry. The technology may be too early in its infancy for companies to invest all-in without significant hits to their budgets. Over time, prices are sure to decrease, as has been the case with commercial VR headsets such as Oculus. However, the appeal of the technology is certainly apparent, with major players in the industry running tests and investing in construction technology companies for research and development.