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Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality Will Construction Jump on the AR/VR Bandwagon?

Will construction jump on the virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) bandwagon?

Consider this:

  • more than one million people are using Samsung’s Gear VR headset just six months after its launch;
  • research group Canalys estimates 6.3 million virtual reality headsets will be shipped globally in 2016; and
  • CCS Insight research predicts 96 million augmented reality and VR headsets will be in use by 2020.

James Benham, CEO of JBKnowledge, explains, “Augmented reality fools the brain into believing digital objects are part of the real world. With virtual reality, users forget about the real world and become immersed in the VR experience.” In other words, VR creates an intense and convincing sense of presence; the imaginary becomes real.

JBKnowledge’s SmartReality mobile and wearable app uses an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset with a Leap Motion Controller for interactive BIM visualization on mobile devices. “The beauty of SmartReality is that little training is needed,” Benham says. “It mimics natural gestures and is very intuitive. The app overlays the BIM model on the construction plans in order to visualize the project at various stages in the building process.”

AR is a means of delivering additional information to the user, according to Lauren Lake, cofounder of Ontario-based Bridgit. “Users can display feedback on environmental surroundings such as GPS data or information on construction materials specifications. In the most powerful construction cases, AR marries these two types of information and presents location-specific data based on external sources. A BIM model can be displayed on top of the user’s field of view that matches his current location within a building, imposing exact measurements and location specifications.”

Hourigan Construction, Richmond, Va., is watching wearables closely to determine what will make sense from an investment standpoint in the near future. In particular, Peter J. Barden, manager of the company’s virtual construction department, is a proponent of VR, which has been used for several years to virtually walk through 3-D BIM models.

Hourigan is exploring Samsung Gear VR gear, powered by Oculus, which allows users to visualize and experience 3-D models and create 360-degree videos. Barden would like to see a smart hardhat with an interface similar to Microsoft Hololens and thinks smart vests are nice from a safety standpoint. “While these advanced technologies are exciting, it’s too early for some of them. Technology can’t do everything we need it to do—yet,” Barden says.

The next frontier is mixed reality, according to Aviad Almagor, senior product manager for Trimble. “In the context of the building industry, this is the phase in which digital and real content coexist, where architectural design collides with reality, and where construction teams transform digital content into physical objects,” he says.

“Mixed reality will have a significant impact on the AEC industry during the next few years. The technology addresses some of the industry’s major inefficiencies during the design, construction and operation stages. Mixed reality improves communication, tightens workflow integration and enables real-time collaboration with remote teams.”

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