Extended reality technology lends its assets to many sectors, and construction is one that has taken the opportunity to implement those assets. Virtual and augmented reality technology has risen in popularity in the construction industry, and as a result so have the tools capable of accommodating the change in direction. XR technology has the ability to help in every stage of construction, as well as for architects and engineers. These implementations led to rapid positive change, causing everybody in the industry to understand the implications and know that extended reality will be used in the construction industry for a long time.
AR, VR, and MR, What's the Difference?
XR technology is an all-encompassing term for augmented (AR), virtual (VR), and mixed (MR) reality technology. Extended reality refers to the digital extension of the physical space, with digitally enabled tools like television, PCs, headsets, and smart devices. There are different levels of immersion, from non-immersive to fully immersive, and each serve to give the user the desired tools for the job intended.
Augmented reality is a digital overlay onto a physical space used to enhance the physical with text, audio, and visual information. It can be used with something as simple as a smart phone (possibly the most common device used), but there are also lenses like Microsoft's Hololense, that enable the user to use their hands for training or demonstration purposes.
Virtual reality is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The difference being that virtual reality involves a complete overlay of the physical world with a virtual one. This is a fully immersive experience and the digital world completely eliminates the physical one, though there are different levels of immersion with VR technology.
If VR is at the opposite end of the spectrum, mixed reality resides just where you might think. Right in the middle of the two. Mixed reality allows for digital interaction with the physical world, a concept difficult to understand without real world examples. In this one, a whale surprises a gym full of students with an exciting physical and digital experience. Notice in the video how the splashing water melds digitally with the gym floor to create a mix of the digital and physical surroundings.
The Benefits of XR Technology in Construction
Due to extended reality technology's ability to help with user retention, offer precise measurements, and reduce operational costs, the construction industry can benefit highly from regular use. Here are some of the benefits of XR technology in construction.
- Rapid change in project direction due to the ability to see specifically what will or will not work with VR blueprints
- Swift and accurate training of new employees with the use of both AR and VR technology
- Exact measurements taken to ensure the most precise cuts, angles, and overall structures
- 3D imaging of construction sites to ensure the most accurate creation of project representation
- Enables teams to be confident and precise in their estimates of time, money, and execution processes
- Better stakeholder engagement due to the exciting interactive opportunities that XR presents
- Safer working environments for new and veteran workers
5 XR Tools for Construction
There are several tools made specifically for construction. Most are applications for AR or VR lenses, though some tools have the technology placed onto the tool itself, like this first example:
- The Atom hard hat from XYZ Reality is designed with AR technology. An augmented reality headset is combined with the hardhat for hands free measurements, 3D modeling in a construction space, and above all, safety with the best technology. The Atom is a safety-certified hard hat with the computing power of the company's "engineering-grade" AR system, HoloSite. It can be used throughout the entire construction process, from design, pre-installation, inspections, etc.
- DAQRI, though you'll have a hard time finding it now because the company went out of business in 2019, designed a smart helmet specifically for industrial work. This AR headset makes the training process easier and faster with simulations designed specifically for construction sites, to include plumbing and electrical work. In 2016, Biz Carson was able to go to DAQRI HQ and try the helmet on. Training can typically be a long and arduous process, but with the experiences she details it can be faster and more efficient.
- Of course, construction would be nowhere without architects to design the buildings in the first place. Virtual modeling is changing the way that architects design and scale projects. With the ability to add or remove design elements with the swipe of a hand, or change the model materials for something more suitable or budget friendly, projects take less time and money to complete. Unreal Engine is a creation tool originally made for gaming and entertainment, but like many more companies wising up to the possibilities of XR technology it is now capable of design work for physical architecture as well.
- Trimble Field Technology created FieldLink, a scanning software that enables the user to increase productivity and accuracy in design creation. It uses mixed reality technology to design layouts directly on the work space that ensure the best use of the intended site. This tool helps contractors and owners work together to find the best factory layout before construction even begins.
- VREX is a virtual reality application that enables collaboration across project timelines, and shared experiences through 3D model creation. Within the virtual space, collaborators can gain an understanding of solutions and record decisions made with each member of the team. With VREX, design teams can save companies time and money with a clear understanding of materials and reduced mistakes.
What Does this Means for the Construction Industry
The construction industry has always operated with the assumption that there will be wasted materials, collaboration efforts, and time and money, just as a simple fact of the business. However, virtual reality is creating a more streamlined process of production before a project even begins.
Virtual reality reduces design collaboration by allowing each person to approve or disapprove of a project element before construction begins because they can see a live 3D visualization of the element. With an accurate representation of the project instead of an unrealistic blueprint that only partially gets the job done, virtual reality eliminates the need to redesign projects in the middle of construction, leading to a reduction of material, time and money waste.
Overall, virtual reality improves production time, lessens waste, and reduces overall cost of a project. It also gives trainees a better understanding of job requirements and best practices in regard to safety and standard operating procedure, leading to a safer and more productive working environment.
This all combines to create a better work environment and more job satisfaction for all involved. For designers, they can see the completed project and sleep soundly at night knowing that they've made the right decisions based on the most accurate visual representation of the project. For construction workers, they can happily sign on to a project with a full understanding of specifications, knowing exactly how to do the job right. As construction tools capable of XR technology become more widely available, we'll be able to see projects go up practically overnight.