Augmented reality is driving construction’s creative reinvention

10Nov16

by Rich McEachran

Construction projects can often be besieged by problems. Planners typically work off paper blueprints and drawings, which makes it harder to capture and analyse data and share information with contractors to ensure quality control and smooth running.

The industry has, up to now, been one of the least digitised industries, according to research by global consultancy firm McKinsey & Company, but digitisation allows information to be shared in real-time and leads to better outcomes. For instance, by overlaying virtual data and images on to a physical space, potential flaws that may arise in complicated processes such as laying ceiling pipes can be spotted early. Workers are able to see how a construction schedule might be affected by potential problems and take measures to avoid them.

“The construction industry is in the midst of creative reinvention. Clients are increasingly wanting to speed up their time to market, and designs and systems are growing in complexity, with buildings being assembled in new ways,” says Sue Klawans, a senior vice president and director of operational excellence and planning at Gilbane Building Company, a Rhode Island construction management firm, which tested Microsoft’s augmented reality (AR) headset HoloLens a few months ago. “We knew we needed to continue offering our team members the tools and technology to support the evolution of how we build.”

The market for digital AR tools is growing. Earlier this year, Californian startup Daqri launched a smart helmet similar to HoloLens and designed specifically for industrial settings. Meanwhile, apps like SmartReality from JBKnowledge, allow users to hold a smartphone or tablet over designs or plan files and see 2D drawings projected as 3D models.

AR is making it easier not only for planners and architects to collaborate with contractors, but to reassure clients and address any concerns they may have. Klawans says its immersive nature means they can “interact with their building and give feedback on the design before ground has been broken”.

The technology’s capacity to deliver cost savings and reduce the chances of a build falling behind schedule can also lead to less cautious investors.

“Using AR to showcase a building or piece of infrastructure to potential investors in its proposed real-world location will help them understand how that asset will connect with its surroundings,” says Dominic Thasarathar, construction industry strategist at Autodesk, the software company that provides the building visualisation data for Gilbane’s system to work. “Such as what the view from the 30th floor of an apartment block might be like. This will make it a more attractive prospect.”

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