There has been a lot of discussion lately about the value of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in the construction industry. The technology can help visualize what a space will look like before a structure is built. Many organizations are predicting the market will soar in the months ahead.
According to data from the International Data Corporation (IDC), sales of AR and VR headsets are expected to grow at a fast pace from under 10 million units in 2016 to almost 100 million units in 2021. In terms of dedicated devices, VR headsets will continue to lead in terms of volume, while AR headsets offer a major opportunity in the commercial segment.
This technology can be an asset to contractors at the jobsite. Both technologies, but particularly AR, can provide a good visualization of what a completed job should look like. Construction companies can then compare with the plans, and any adjustments can be made. VR is an experience nearly identical to walking around in a real building environment, even allowing users to toggle through different lighting conditions to simulate both night and day. Details as minor as wallpaper texture can be observed.
Seeing the Value
AR and VR can solve a lot of challenges at the construction jobsite. For example, James Moar, senior analyst, Juniper Research, says AR can help check the status of components, buildings, and other jobsite elements against an ideal model, and provide a visual overlay of any correction and maintenance that needs to be applied.
This can reduce the time taken to do repair on the jobsite, and guide any work that needs to be done through display of schematics and component designs. VR can be used to create a visual reference point for the jobsite, allowing for offsite first-person review by managers of the stages of construction, as well as providing a tool for an initial survey of the site to better understand the site’s topography. Both of these can help enhance collaboration and understanding about the nature of the jobsite, without having to bring everyone involved to the jobsite itself.
Besides the possibilities of collaborating remotely on the project, VR and AR will show contractors phases of construction and help prevent problems.
Marc Kinsman, Immersive Technologies developer, Mortenson Construction, says, “In the design phase of a project, VR can help partners feel their future space before construction begins and allows designers to make necessary changes to the design before requiring expensive change orders. On the jobsite, AR can catch issues before they become big problems and can provide crews with just-in-time instruction.”
Overall the technology has potential to help the industry. Beyond seeing and visualizing the construction site, AR can also improve productivity by giving workers complex instructions.
Aaron Tate, vice president of Client Success at Upskill, says, “Instructions are digitized for the contractor. They can work without having to have an instruction manual with them or worry if they have the correct one. This technology can connect the skills of a seasoned worker with the new systems, those that are green or smart or use BIM.”
Using AR and VR on the jobsite can help a contractor perform the job better. The technology can also help fill in the worker gap, bringing knowledge to all of those working on a project, and addressing the skilled labor shortage challenge, as the technology can provide instruction and data overlay.
Kinsman of Mortenson builds on that, saying, “Additionally, the use of VR can save time and money by making project changes during the design phase rather than during the construction phase and has become a rapid decision-making tool by allowing the ability to rapidly change environments and test new iterations in hours rather than days or weeks. VR can also help achieve more sustainable building practices by doing away with the need for wasteful, expensive, weather-protected physical mockups of projects that often run $80,000.”
Overall, these technologies can help enhance communication between the different project participants involved on the jobsite, such as allowing the architect to review the site relative to their original plans. It can also lower cost and decrease risk by allowing more detailed simulations to be made of the jobsite itself.
Obstacles to Overcome
With all the benefits of AR and VR in mind, the question remains: When will it truly take off? Even with the advancements that can be seen on the jobsite with AR and VR, adoption is still slow in construction, according to many in the industry.
Moar of Juniper Research says, “These technologies require substantial investment in technical capabilities, which will at present increase their upfront cost. Connectivity is a problem. The ability to pull up any designs on the fly requires a data connection, which cannot be guaranteed for all jobsite locations.”
There is also little in the way of standard interfaces and connections to existing data sources for AR and VR. Until AR and VR can connect to a construction firm’s database and become more plug-and-play, the technology will be limited to those construction companies which can afford to have dedicated software teams to manage the devices.
Kinsman of Mortenson says, “Many general contractors use off-the-shelf software, which does not allow for nearly the same level of detail and customization for customers. Having access to the best software and a highly trained team is essential.”
Future Possibilities for Construction
While VR is a means to improve design outcomes and primarily serves as a communication tool, AR will help dictate the future of construction.
Kinsman explains, “AR headsets and goggles have the future potential to provide crews with just-in-time instruction, projections of an installation layout on a concrete slab, or a data overlay that shows how each building system has been performing over time. This is and will be the construction project of the future.”
The systems can be used to enhance jobsite safety both prior to construction and during the build itself. They can also provide higher levels of collaboration and communication between different workers on a project. As contractors and construction companies see the benefits of using AR and VR at the jobsite, the technology will become more common at the jobsite in the future.