Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR, respectively) have been used in gaming and entertainment for some time. However, that’s not the only place these technologies are gaining popularity as construction is turning to AR and VR in an increasing variety of applications.
There are countless uses for both technologies. These range from advanced training simulators that mimic real-world conditions and physics, to heads-up displays that let owners and supervisors conduct virtual site walks, to generating richly detailed, interactive 3D models of building projects. While pandemic restrictions have given the technology a sudden boost, the uptick in adoption shows no signs of slowing as new software and hardware keep appearing. Each new tool has helped companies improve efficiency, accuracy, and safety.
Here are six construction uses for VR/AR we expect to see a lot of in the coming year.
Many jobs within construction involve heavy machinery, which can be dangerous without proper training. The obvious catch 22 here is that trainees need to gain experience using the equipment, but it’s impractical or unsafe to train them on real equipment. With the margin of error so low in many real-world situations, it’d be best for workers to familiarize themselves with the controls and operation in a safe environment.
That’s where virtual reality training simulators enter the picture. Whether seated at an array of monitors or wearing virtual reality goggles, these simulators allow new workers to get a feel for the equipment they’ll be using every day in a safe, highly controlled environment. CM Labs was recently tasked with creating a VR training simulator for New York City crane operators. The application gives trainees a chance to familiarize themselves with the enormous machines before trying their hand at the real thing. The simulator even won the approval of the NYC Department of Buildings, which designated CM Labs’ simulator as the first-ever virtual crane rating solution.
2. Remote Maintenance
AR lets workers share what they can see with an off-site expert, effectively allowing the experts to be in multiple places at once. By wearing a headset or a set of augmented reality goggles, workers in the field can get live guidance from technicians who are better equipped to identify problems when they can look through the worker’s eyes.
Thanks to new tech, it can all be done without a site visit (or, in the case of an especially tricky issue, multiple site visits), saving companies time and reducing the chance of errors. In many cases, a worker knows how to fix an issue but needs some guidance in identifying exactly where the fix is needed. AR ensures a project will always have a more experienced technician on call, no matter where they’re located in the physical world.
There are two construction jobs simply perfect for VR and AR—architects and designers. VR allows these professionals to see a project in an immersive virtual environment before the structure is erected, a far cry from the 2D renderings. By virtually “standing” inside of a digital model of a completed building, architects and designers can get a better sense of how their vision comes to life, allowing them to identify potential difficulties before they have a chance to become an issue.
In that same vein, VR is being used in the bidding process, allowing companies to show off their proposals in a much more compelling way. Stakeholders can even get virtual guided tours of what the space they’re commissioning will look like once finished.
4. Socially Distanced Jobsites
Nobody can tell how much longer social distancing and mandates limiting on-site personnel will last. As construction must go on, companies have already begun incorporating virtual reality into their workflows to ensure project continuity. A combination of VR technology and 3D cameras allows a supervisor or inspector “walk” a real-world job site, even from hundreds of miles away. All they need is a mobile device. This gives inspectors the time and flexibility to cover a lot more ground in a lot less time, ensuring companies aren’t left without an answer to pressing questions without requiring more people on a job site.
5. Attracting New Talent
Construction’s skilled labor shortage is a well-documented fact. Seasoned industry veterans are retiring at a faster pace than young workers are stepping up to replace them. The industry is hoping to lure digitally native young workers with new technology. Young people today were practically born with a smart device in their hands, so they’re more comfortable even with advanced technology than any previous generations.
Incorporating VR and AR into training and real-world construction work could help attract younger people, who are naturally drawn to high-tech industries.
6. Virtual Collaboration
With meetings on hold for the foreseeable future due to pandemic-related safety concerns, companies have sought new ways of collaboration that wouldn’t require everyone involved to be in the same room.
Boston-based Suffolk Construction recently partnered with New York-based InsiteVR on a platform that allows the firm’s engineering teams to collaborate remotely on projects. Workers access the platform using their mobile device or desktop computer and can view project designs and site plans through a VR headset. This enables teams to leverage their collective ingenuity and spot and address potential issues in a simulated environment.
In-person meetings may not return anytime soon, but construction remains a highly collaborative industry, often necessitating agreement by multiple disparate groups of stakeholders for work to progress on schedule. Without virtual and augmented reality, none of this would have been possible.