No doubt, there are many moving parts to any construction project — whether it is a high-rise apartment tower or a housing development. As a contractor, a big part of your job is to document the project and keep stakeholders up to date with photos and on-site tours. Wouldn’t this be easier if you could use an app that delivered a 360-degree photo of your project to share with clients? Or even better — what if you could see inside the walls of a building using photos taken earlier in the construction process?
Clearly, this is an exciting time for those who are eager to embrace emerging construction technology like Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (VR/AR). Even though this technology has been on the horizon for a while, its potential has not gone unnoticed. A report released by Goldman Sachs in 2016 predicted that the AR/VR market in the U.S. could be as large as $182 billion by 2025. The report cites some construction companies are already seeing ways the technology can be useful in the pre-construction stage.
BIM Leads the Way
One thing everyone can agree on is the potential for this technology to save real money for construction companies and solve critical challenges. Some contractors today are already seeing the benefits: faster project completion, less rework, improved safety, lower labor cost, issues resolved faster and improved quality. As this technology continues to save time and money, you will begin to see greater acceptance.
In fact, the wider acceptance of 3D and Building Information Modeling (BIM) may signal a push in the industry toward more contractors using this ground-breaking technology. Its potential to change the way projects are designed and built is awe-inspiring. While tablets at construction sites are nothing new, the possibility of integrating digital content with real-world images opens up new possibilities for how contractors plan work, quality management, safety and inspection.
A Closer Look at AR and VR
Let’s take a deeper dive into these two technologies and how they are being used in the construction industry.
Augmented Reality (AR) is any technology that superimposes spatially contextual information over the user’s view of the real world, providing additional data while still permitting interaction with the real environment. With AR, a designer can overlay an interactive design model on the real, live environment.
The most practical implications for AR is that a project manager or contractor could walk through a construction site and easily view an overlay of a BIM model on top of as-built construction. They could then compare the two while also accessing up-to-date change orders or other project documentation. The project manager could instantly take pictures or record video of the AR walk-through and send it back to the design team for clarification as issues arise. Some believe that AR will do for BIM what BIM did for CAD and 2D architectural drawing.
By comparison, Virtual Reality (VR) is a computer-simulated environment that allows you to interact in a realistic and/or physical way within the environment. With VR, you wear a virtual reality visor and become immersed as it replaces the real-world with a computer-generated environment.
In theory, moving to VR should be easy since architects and engineers already create digital models of their designs. But experts say these existing models will likely need to be augmented or even rebuilt to be used for VR. Some of the strongest arguments for AR and VR center on the potential for engineering design and project collaboration. This means all parties involved in a project could meet and resolve any issues in a virtual building that is being designed. With everyone present, you could alter the design in a shared space.
What’s Driving the Market?
Much of the interest in AR and VR has to do with its potential for cost- and time-savings to streamline processes. Here are some of the potential benefits of this evolving technology:
- Ideas for customers, planners, investors and other critical stakeholders can be quickly visualized by architects and developers
- These groups can more easily discuss changes and up-sell to more costly options
- It also helps to reduce expensive late-stage changes because you can more easily explore and evaluate options at any stage
- It can improve early-stage collaboration between architects, engineers and construction specialists
The Next Big Thing
We can all agree that estimating has come a long way since manual takeoff with colored pencils and calculators. It has not been that long since the construction industry began to embrace digital takeoff and estimating tools and BIM. This technology has led to great leaps in speed and accuracy — allowing estimators to bid and win work more quickly.
To take things to the next level, the construction industry will need to connect modeling and estimating software so they can take full advantage of the promise of AR and VR solutions. This change will likely disrupt what estimators and project managers do and how it is done — just as digital takeoff and BIM have revolutionized and sped up the entire building design process.
Just like the hype around AR and VR, the market is saturated with noise around BIM and its impact on traditional 2D estimators. Let On Center Software help you grapple with this next-generation technology. Don’t miss our must-read white paper, “Is Takeoff Dead?”
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