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Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have amassed a massive following in the construction industry within a very short period of time. These technologies are being incorporated in a majority of construction projects as they are proving to be a huge asset for civil engineers and architects.

Although the industry has been relatively slow in the adoption of new technologies, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced construction companies to reconsider their priorities. This has opened new doors for several technologies, including AR and VR, which are bound to have a growing impact in the coming years.

Though still in their developing stages, AR and VR are expected to transform the future of construction as they mature and get more widely accepted.

Virtual Reality in Construction
Use of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for Construction Projects

What is Augmented and Virtual Reality?

Augmented reality is defined as the view of a real scenario with certain elements of the reality augmented by computer extracted real-world inputs. In contrast, virtual reality can be defined as a simulated environment created by computers, where the viewer can be placed inside the simulation with the help of headsets and goggles.

There is often some confusion in distinguishing between the two technologies. However, the primary difference is that VR creates an entirely simulated environment, whereas AR superimposes computer-generated images and information on real-world images.

In simple terms, virtual reality is a digital experience, whereas augmented reality combines the real and digital into one immersive environment.

How Does the AR/VR Technology Work?

The AR/VR technology creates a 3D model first and combines it with all the details of the project. This data is digitally displayed over the user’s physical surroundings in real-time and can be viewed using goggles or AR device.

Do We Need AR/VR in Construction?

A construction project can take up to months or years for completion depending upon its level of complexity. This makes it physically impractical for engineers to check every small detail after the construction of each component of the project.

But AR/VR allows us to get into a house, check each and every corner even before laying the foundation, and combines the digital and physical views to help construction teams drive more efficiency and accuracy in their projects.

An example is the virtual reality app called Scaffold VR, developed by Avontus Software, which provides a digital walk-through of the designs created using the company’s Scaffold Designer software.

The app also enables the user to see and share these designs in a 3D virtual environment. It can be used by team members and clients to access the drawings from any location, helping them avoid any errors and costly reworks.

Although conventional 3D models are already replacing blueprints and crude mock-ups, VR has a lot more to offer to the project stakeholders. On the other hand, AR can improve the way humans can work together with digital machines. The use of AR is expected to grow extensively, partly because the entry costs are low compared to VR.

Benefits and Applications of AR/VR

1. Designing

1. VR technology can be integrated with BIM to visualize designs and BIM information on the site. This can help detect design coordination errors for the project.

2. VR also acts as a powerful communication tool for designers by helping them explain concepts to clients and other stakeholders.

3. AR can help generate 3D models directly on a 2D plan, which can be combined with 3D modeling software and BIM to create interactive models of the project. This not only increases the level of client involvement in the project but can prevent delays, reduce cost overruns, and identify any errors before time.

Virtual Reality and BIM integration for design visualization
Virtual Reality and BIM integration to visualize designs on-site
Image Courtesy: Clayco

4. An AR gear can measure the physical properties of a space, such as height, width, and depth. This information can be incorporated into models to generate more precise structures. Accurate measurements will ensure efficiency and help determine the exact labor and materials needed for construction.

2. Training

1. VR can be used to simulate real-world scenarios and environments, which can be used to provide hands-on experience and training to employees prior to entering a job site.

2. Construction firms also end up spending a lot on safety programs that not only demand time but aren’t always properly communicated to the workers. However, AR headsets can be used to demonstrate virtual drills, instructions, and safety conditions to the workers. This kind of direct learning will improve safety awareness and will also provide intuitive training with reduced training costs and downtime.

3. Construction

1. Apart from the designing phase, AR is being developed to enable workers on-site to automate measurements during construction. Workers will be provided with AR units, allowing them to automatically make measurements of the constructed components and compare them against the specifications of the model. This will detect any inconsistencies in the structures, which can be quickly adjusted to prevent higher costs and delays down the line.

2. AR can be used to access locations of walls, pipes, outlets, and ventilation directly on the site with the ability to toggle on and off the feature. For instance, this technology can be used to see the locations of all the drill holes specified in the building plans, allowing a worker to make the correct additions and moving the project along.

3. AR also lets the users to virtually track the progress of a project, providing an even additional level of project management as well as enhancing productivity.

Use of AR for On-site Construction
Use of Augmented Reality for on-site Construction
Image Courtesy: Hiroko Masuike

4. The pandemic has made us realize the importance of employees’ presence at a job site. It is not always possible for all the associated teams to be available at a given time. This causes unnecessary delays as any emerging issues can’t be mitigated unless all the involved parties assemble and come to a conclusion before making any changes.

In such cases, AR can be used to take notes and share videos of errors and send the information to the concerned teams in real-time. The on-site and remote team members can consult each other and make decisions based on the available information, thus reducing the time and costs.

5. With further refinements in the technology, AR scenarios and data goggles will be combined with a camera to perform remote maintenance on machines and structures. A remotely-located expert will guide the supervisor on-site, who will be sharing the view of the equipment or structure. The expert will then analyze the scenario and instruct the supervisor on fixing the issue.

6. AR will also allow users to make changes to the building models directly on the field site. Workers can show the interior and exterior views of a structure and make any adjustments to the digital model while keeping one view intact. This will allow architects and engineers to detect errors in a virtual view before applying changes to the physical structure.

7. VR is expected to help us perform remote operations in the near future. Machine operators will be able to control equipment and carry out excavation works remotely. The operator’s presence will not be required at the job site, and the machine will be operated by an individual sitting behind a screen and checking the real-time monitoring.

FAQs

What is augmented reality (AR)?

Augmented reality is defined as the view of a real scenario with certain elements of the reality augmented by computer extracted real-world inputs.

What is virtual reality (VR)?

Virtual reality can be defined as a simulated environment created by computers, where the viewer can be placed inside the simulation with the help of headsets and goggles.

What is the difference between AR and VR?

The primary difference between AR and VR is that the latter creates an entirely simulated environment, whereas AR superimposes computer-generated images and information on real-world images. In simple terms, virtual reality is a digital experience, whereas augmented reality combines the real and digital into one immersive environment.

How does the AR/VR technology work?

The AR/VR technology creates a 3D model first and combines it with all the details of the project. This data is digitally displayed over the user’s physical surroundings in real-time and can be viewed using goggles or AR device.

What is an example of VR in construction?

An existing example is the virtual reality app called Scaffold VR, developed by Avontus Software. The app provides a digital walk-through of the designs created using the company’s Scaffold Designer software. It also enables the user to see and share these designs in a 3D virtual environment. The app can be used by team members and clients to access the drawings from any location, helping them avoid any errors and costly reworks.

Read More

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