Augmented and virtual reality technologies have had jaws dropping in consumer and retail experiences for years now. In professional circles, and construction in particular, there is some serious catching up to do. This lag is in spite of demonstrable advantages that using AR and VR before, after, and on the job provides.
A handful of recently-funded startups have made it their mission to “futurize” the world of construction, and so far, their progress is impressive.
Though it is far from universal, VR already sees wide use in the planning and design stages of construction projects. Reviewing models of projects with their physical dimensions realized in a three-dimensional space gives developers unprecedented insight into the relationships between elements of design and allows them to spot flaws before they become costly mistakes.
Some estimates pin the savings possible at nearly $16 billion annually. Startup Paracosm has demonstrated tech that can scan accurate 3D models within minutes that give live models for comparison to the plan.
VR differs from AR in its ability to transport a user to an entirely new space rather than just overlaying digital elements over the real world. This positions the technology to massively enhance the effectiveness of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and integrate it with data gathered on site.
Designers, supervisors, and workers can just as easily examine a blueprint to anticipate errors and ensure the project is moving forward on track. Yulio Technologies has taken this integration to new heights, creating heat maps of users’ attention by analyzing their gazes. This gives immediate data on which elements of design do and do not work.
For its part, AR has been shown to boost productivity and safety on the job by increasing workers’ situational awareness. Loose building materials can be highlighted for workers to resolve rapidly, among other solutions. In fact, the benefits of a fully-integrated kit with smartphone apps, AR headset, and smart helmet have been lauded so much that companies dragging their feet to adopt the new tech have been called, in one author’s words, “nonsensical.”
These technologies do not come without their caveats. The cost of entry is still high enough to raise eyebrows. Just as well, onsite AR can be considered useless without precision to an eighth of an inch, as anything above that makes overlays look unnatural. Just as well, AR can be distracting on a dangerous jobsite if it is not seamlessly integrated into the world around a user. With time, innovators and startups are sure to resolve these negatives. By then it will not be a question of which construction firms have brought AR/VR on board, but who has not?