How Augmented Reality Is Changing Construction

20Sep16

 

Discussions about innovation in construction are usually about building innovative architecture, materials and design. But when was the last major innovation in how buildings are built? 

Riding the wave of the adoption of mobile technology, augmented reality (AR) is set to have a profound effect on how buildings are built. Not since the implementation of BIM has there been such a revolution in construction technology.

When the term augmented reality is mentioned, a lot of people still envision Tony Stark slinging through virtual blueprints in Iron Man with the swipe of a finger, or more recently, cute characters sharing space in Pokémon Go. Although Hollywood exaggerates what’s possible and the gaming applications are simplistic, the amazing applications that Hollywood’s creative minds come up with aren’t too far from the truth.

AR technology has real-world applications in use within the construction industry today. From a framer to a foreman, from building modeling to final inspections, AR’s potential is vast and is already driving several benefits, including dramatic time savings, more efficient resource usage and less downtime.

Though AR technologies are still in their infancy, they can be put to good, practical use now. BIM tools are commonplace in the industry, allowing collaboration among architects, general contractors and subcontractors through planning and simulating construction virtually. AR can be an extension of this, bringing virtual schematics into the real world. That is to say, virtual content can be overlaid on top of real content using AR technology, allowing a viewer to visualize new virtual content on top of real construction.

The implications of this are staggering. A framer could do away with construction documentation and tape measures, relying instead on virtual wireframes being presented in front of him, saving countless hours of measuring and verification. Similarly, jobsite foremen can use AR tools to visualize how a job should go together step by step. Architects and customers can walk through real spaces, visualizing how new construction might look.

Better still, once construction is complete, those visualizations can be handed over to the facility maintenance and building owners, so they can visualize features that would normally be hidden by drywall (e.g., plumbing, electrical, ducts, etc.). Inspections would become much more efficient, as an inspector could visualize these features and compare planned versus as-built installations much easier than referring to traditional engineering drawings, resulting in better accuracy, time savings and completeness.

Furthermore, communication over the Internet provides the ability for different disciplines to collaborate together in real time. A customer doing a walkthrough might collaborate with an architect located at his corporate headquarters, doing real-time modifications to the building plans. A worker encountering a problem onsite today could cause the entire job to be shut down, resulting in downtime and delays while he waits for a foreman to come onsite to resolve the issue. With AR-enabled remote support tools, that problem could be resolved quickly by having an expert remotely collaborate to solve the problem in minutes, not days, saving enormous amounts of money and also allowing the project foreman to be able to efficiently manage multiple projects at one time.

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