You may think loud, dusty construction sites have nothing to do with virtual reality, yet advances in technology will soon transform the way we design and construct buildings. Even though Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR) are all closely associated with gaming, like 2016’s breakout hit Pokemon Go, the technology’s potential for disruption of the construction industry is taken very seriously.
Already, innovative architectural firms are using XR (VR/AR/MR) to show their clients how their designs will look once finished. The same files that hold the plan information are converted into realistic virtual scenes. All unimaginable just ten years ago.
Here’s the best part:
We’re scratching the surface of how XR combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and super-fast cloud computing will revolutionize the way we build where we live, work, and play.
What are some of the possibilities for how advances in technology will improve the Architectural, Engineering, Construction (AEC) industry?
In this article, you’ll learn how the construction industry will save millions in costs and thousands of hours of labor every year by implementing XR (a term that describes all forms of immersive technologies.) You’ll learn 3 different ways that companies in the next ten years will be using tech to speed the building process while lowering costs.
Virtual Samples: How To Save Time, Money, and Frustration By Designing in VR
If you’ve ever stepped foot inside a builders office you’d notice mini mock-ups, color swatches, and samples of all kinds of building materials. Making, shipping, and presenting samples is a part of the process on every project. Inevitably, someone at some point wants to see a version of what they are paying for so they can visualize the final outcome.
This comes at a big cost.
All those samples, from all those companies, on all those projects use precious resources like time and money while increasing the cost of construction. The purpose is to help people make decisions. But at what cost?
With the continued development of enterprise-ready XR solutions, future builders will be able to tap into databases of virtual products. One-click uploads into virtual building scenes can quickly show decision-makers how commercially-available products will look like in a realistic one-to-one scale.
Already, firms have begun offering customized virtual reality solutions for the AEC industry. Alex Coulombe, industry pioneer and founder of Agile Lens, an XR development company based in New York, sees a transformation coming for those in the building materials industry. “Every manufacturer will offer some kind of OpenXR-esque standard method for viewing and interacting with their product, the same way many offer cut sheets or 3D models now.”
As the benefits of XR converts industry leaders into advocates for innovation, expect to see companies jump on the bandwagon as they did with the internet in the late 1990’s. Easy virtual accessibility will become a competitive advantage allowing firms who take advantage of the opportunities early-on to see outsized rewards. “Architects and contractors are going to test everything virtually before spec'ing it,” explained Alex, “ so any company that doesn't make that easy won't even have their products considered.”
One way manufacturers can allow the industry to access the models of their products is by uploading them onto a centralized database accessible on a website (web VR). Like a Facebook for virtual building products, the advantages of having them all in one searchable place means that any architect or builder can show their clients different options for comparisons.
You may not be surprised to find out that at least one company is setting the groundwork for such a future. BIMobject works with manufacturers to upload their building materials into an easily accessible database using their Building Information Model (BIM). The BIM models hold both qualitative and quantitative information that can easily be manipulated then converted for use in XR.
For more customized samples, 3D scanning technology will allow for accurate representations of unique work. Much like scanners are necessary in the modern office, future building product manufacturers will be uploading their samples regularly and sending them out to their clients for final approval.
Whichever solutions ultimately take hold in the industry, the building process will be much better served by having virtual samples as part of the design decision making.
AR Assisted Installations; How The Mix of the Virtual and Real Improves Safety and Reduces Costs in Construction
Construction workers of the future will be associated more with Silicon Valley than their current tech-averse counterparts as the use of Mixed Reality (MR) goggles become commonplace on the jobsite.
As of now, companies like Microsoft have developed and commercialize MR headsets that allow factory laborers to work in assisted environments. The glass displays on the HoloLens shows users virtual overlays of information based on their environment. Workers work smarter, faster, and more accurately.
If you should walk around a job site ten years from now and you will notice less mobile devices and more smart goggles.
Workers will have pertinent information such as building plans, shop drawings, and technical data displayed over the real-world environment. Installation instructions, with step-by-step guides, act as a checklist ensuring safe, precise, and quick installs of all kinds. Once install is complete, the installer’s MR goggles capture then forward their work onto the appropriate parties.
Does this mean construction laborers will be obsolete?
Not quite. Construction workers will not be replaced but rather enhanced by advancements in technologies.
Alex from Agile Lens explained, “I won't need to go to a job site as much as I can appear there as a hologram standing alongside those who are on site, see everything they see via volumetric capture, and using the full power and freedom of XR tools (flying, drawing in the air, pulling in smart data) to make a meaningful contribution to the work that's happening there.”
Since communication is the most important part of construction, as anyone who’s gone to weekly on-site meetings can tell you, having the latest information in the eyes of the frontline workers will assure projects run smoothly.
Super Inspectors; How XR can save building departments time and money
Building Inspectors, known as the last line of defense for safely built structures, will soon be super-charged with the aid of XR devices.
Think about it.
For a building to be signed off and certified as safe for public use, hundreds of inspections must be passed. Inspections come in a variety of fields such as plumbing, electrical, and structural, all with their own domains of expertise.
Inspectors must prove they are subject matter experts, holding relevant licenses, passing exams, and going through many hours of rigorous training before they are allowed to sign off on inspections. But even with all that effort, they are still prone to human-error.
What are the consequences of bad inspections?
Deficiencies might be missed, standards might not be met, and people’s lives might be at risk.
Watch out in the next ten years for AR solutions becoming more common on the construction site. With it, you’ll see local municipalities using them on their inspections.
Imagine before an inspector ever leaves their office, they will have the building plans already loaded onto their HMD. The system shows them exactly the areas needing inspections.
Companies like Gamma AR have begun to show us this future with their AR solution that takes BIM files and superimposes them into the construction site. Stakeholders can then come in and compare the installed work with the BIM file to assess if it was done correctly.
No confusion, no wandering around. No more digging through reams of plans to assess if the work was done correctly. Arguing with inspectors would become a thing of the past.
The construction site of the future, enhanced by AR/VR, AI, and other advancements in tech will allow jobs to run smoothly at a lower cost, with fewer mistakes. The cost savings will eventually be passed down to the consumer as the technology becomes more ubiquitous in the architecture/engineering/construction industry.
“Realistically once the potential of these tools starts to become recognized,” said Alex, “ we're probably going to see greater expectations on even tighter deadlines and budgets.”
Construction will be transformed from a labor-intensive, low-tech, imprecise process to that of a calibrated, coordinated effort enhanced by the latest tech developments.