Why Innovations in AR and VR Will Improve Safety and Communication
Imagine a new construction worker who knows exactly what to do when a ladder slides before they’ve ever stepped foot on a jobsite, preventing them from being one of the 384 fall fatalities that happen every year. Imagine a stakeholder in a project being able to walk through the building in Los Angeles from their office in Tokyo before ground has been broken. Imagine workers being able to precisely place fixtures because of the augmented reality that superimposes the blueprints over the existing construction.
Augmented reality and virtual reality.
While these two terms may sound like something you’d expect to hear in the gaming industry, they’re becoming a more normal part of daily life, even in the construction industry. When it comes to AR and VR in construction, companies can take advantage of the huge opportunities these technologies present. Used correctly, they can significantly improve planning, transform jobsites and aid construction outcomes.
Below, we’ll take a look at the benefits and role of AR and VR in construction now, as well as the potential for the technology in the future.
What Are the Differences Between AR and VR?
While you might have heard the terms AR and VR in construction being used when discussing new innovations in the construction industry, they are two distinct technologies. But what’s the difference between these technologies and what different roles do they play in a construction environment?
Virtual reality (VR) creates an encompassing experience, blocking out the real world through a combination of sights, sounds and even tactile experiences in a created environment. On the other hand, augmented reality (AR) provides digital information laid out over real-world elements (e.g., Snapchat filters or Pokemon Go), essentially providing information in a manner similar to a heads-up display. VR can be used in construction for training, safety, structure walkthroughs, plan reviews and similar aspects, while AR provides virtual feedback on real-world progress to ensure everyone is on the same page and errors are reduced on the jobsite.
How AR and VR Will Improve the Construction Industry
Improve Safety and Training
AR and VR construction technologies can provide real-time views into a jobsite. Whether it’s a remote inspection to keep safety officials safely on the ground, off-site monitoring to ensure better security of the jobsite or the ability to bring in an expert remotely to take a look at a problem area, AR and VR in construction are making things possible that would have been in the realm of science fiction just a few short years ago.
Building can be a dangerous profession. Construction is the top industry for work-related fatalities and disabling injuries. In 2016 alone, one out of five workplace-related deaths were reported in construction. Today, safety training that is provided on sites, though considered sufficient for liability purposes, is not necessarily enough. Nonetheless, AR and VR technology can help make jobsites safer by assisting with situational and safety training. It’s very difficult for a construction worker in the classroom who is being told or shown what to do in an emergency to remember that advice when an accident is underway. However, VR construction programs allow workers to go through situations in a realistic environment, including making split-second decisions, meeting unexpected complications and providing physical feedback, all while still staying safe on the ground.
Enhance Collaboration and Communication
In today’s technical world, even decisions such as selecting the right architect for a construction project may hinge on VR. Increasingly, construction firms and owners are requesting VR walkthroughs of designs to ensure that they are happy with the plans prior to breaking ground. Design visualization can be enhanced through the use of AR and VR, allowing stakeholders, subcontractors, architects and other stakeholders to understand the visualization.
AR and VR in construction also provide a wonderful opportunity to identify any issues before they even exist in the real world. We’ve all had construction projects that had obnoxious numbers of change orders, simply because a team member didn’t take the time or understand the impact of exactly what they were seeing in the plans. VR walkthroughs allow all interested project stakeholders to review the plans together before construction begins.
But what about once construction has begun? When potential issues come up on the jobsite, it’s much easier to have them resolved quickly if it can be inspected and evaluated remotely. Instead of waiting for the project manager to free up a few hours to drive to the site, see the actual problem, assess and deliver a solution, VR can help reduce the time to just a few minutes. The manager can simply pop on a headset, take a look at the problem and provide advice remotely or even mark up the project plans to record the recommended change.
Help Cut Costs
What if you could maximize a project managers time on multiple projects at once simply by reducing travel time? Instead of sending managers or inspectors into the jobsite, VR headsets can allow the inspections to take place without entering the area. This allows managers, stakeholders and supervisors to watch over a larger number of sites without having to travel to each one. By maximizing productivity and helping teams to easily scale their initiatives, VR and AR technology can help spread professionals across a wider range of projects by minimizing travel time and cutting administrative costs.
Additionally, if a construction worker has a better picture of what exactly needs to be accomplished, they have the ability to reduce the materials needed for the project through enhanced visualization. Instead of using a new piece of drywall, they can check whether there’s an existing cut piece that will fit the bill. Overall, this better understanding of specific project needs helps reduce waste on the construction site, and in turn, increases profits.
Furthermore, AR technology can also help to cut costs by reducing rework. As construction professionals know, rework can get expensive. In fact, around 9% of total project cost is estimated as the actual cost of rework. However, when construction workers have AR headsets available that can overlay the plans with the actual work taking place, it can reduce the need for reworked areas that don’t match the plans. When a new fixture needs to be installed, the worker can actually see the plans in the headset overlaid onto the construction work that has taken place. This allows for more precise placement of components like fixtures, helping to avoid the work of having to move the fixture and repair the original opening later on.
What Technology Is Out There Right Now?
But what’s available right now? Here’s a quick look at some commonly-used AR and VR options that are on the market.
- Paracosm is a mapping technology that can quickly scan and map large areas, indoors or outdoors, in 3D. At 100 meters, it can read measurements to within 2-3 cm, or about 0.03%, while reading up to 300,000 individual points per second. It can scan a 5,000 square foot office space with furniture, equipment and decor in place in about three minutes or a city block in a couple minutes. At the same time, it remains a light, mobile technology that is relatively easy to use while saving the many hours of labor typically involved in mapping a site manually.
- HoloBuilder provides a software solution for 360° Reality Capturing and progress tracking of your construction sites. The company has thoroughly embraced digitization, including seamless integration with Autodesk BIM 360, Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Egnyte and pCloud. An integration with PlanGrid is being implemented. HoloBuilder uses a cloud-based interface to integrate information between their web-platform and the mobile-friendly JobWalk companion app for iOS and Android. The app allows for the fastest possible capture of job site progress using a mobile device and 360° camera, enabling for instant access by contractors and other stakeholders. All data can be easily backed up to a single USB stick, providing a permanent record of your project for additional security and handover during project close-out.
- Matterport’s camera technology captures 2D photography and 3D data from jobsites. Using this information, the software creates an immersive 3D model of a real-world job site. Using a VR headset, viewers can truly experience the jobsite and are able to collaborate and problem solve remotely.
What the Future Holds for AR and VR in Construction
AR and VR construction technology, as part of a larger push towards industry-wide digitization, can help existing construction companies gain the flexibility and agility needed in everyday operations. This, in turn, gives them the tools they need to remain successful in the future. By using AR and VR in construction in the planning meetings, on the project site and into the construction site, the entire industry benefits and can take advantage of the benefits this technology can bring about.