Augmented & Virtual Reality Devices Will Be the New Normal on Construction Sites

Posted by Ricardo J. Rodríguez - 12 May, 2022

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A series that explores the tech trends poised to disrupt the construction industry, culminating in an exclusive virtual event where Master Builders Solutions’ Global Digital Insights Strategist, Ricardo J Rodríguez, and construction tech experts will discuss how these main trends will shape the construction businesses worldwide. Please follow the link below, should you wish to learn more and confirm your attendance.

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The construction industry is slow to adopt new technology

MBS_ARVR_01The construction industry is one of the most traditional industries globally, with companies relying on many manual processes and workers to complete their tasks. It’s no secret that construction can be a challenging industry to operate in, from the safety and health of workers to lost staff hours due to inefficient processes. However, with the increasing number of use-cases in which AR/VR can help improve efficiency and productivity, it is expected that we will see a surge in adoption over the next few years.

Augmented reality (AR) is an umbrella term for technologies that enhance the user experience by adding digital content to the real world. You’ve likely experienced these initially through your mobile phone’s camera. It is a natively available function in several mobile apps, particularly those associated with navigation or even those that give you the ability to see a piece of furniture in your living room before you buy it (such as IKEA’s app). But, wearable versions of this tech are available, such as Microsoft’s Hololens, MagicLeaps One, and Facebook’s (now Meta) collaboration with Ray-Ban. Virtual reality (VR) is an immersive experience where you can interact with digital objects as if they were real. You must wear a headset with VR, either tethered (connected with a cable) or untethered (wireless). The difference between Ar & VR is that while VR isolates users from reality by using headsets that block out their surroundings, AR overlays digital information on top of real-world objects. Examples of these include the Oculus Rift/Oculus Quest or HTC Vive. It is worth noting that there are hybrid or other “flavors” of VR/AR alternatives and can typically include XR (extended reality) and MR (mixed reality) technologies. AR/VR offers a simulated illusion of a 3d visual environment through an immersive head-mounted 3D headset display or mobile device. Both AR and VR already have several market-validated use cases in the healthcare, manufacturing, and automotive industries. 

From AR glasses to drones, a combination of the latest tech products is helping construction businesses to remain competitive. Several external factors add additional pressures to their daily practices: supply chain complexities, raw material cost increases, staff shortages, and a knowledge gap on adjusting their business models to operate in the 21st century. In short, the industry is in a state of transition. Companies need to stay ahead of the curve of new technologies because they will be vital in increasing productivity, site safety, and climate commitments. Digital technologies are already changing how things are done on-site. Technology can make it easier, safer, and more efficient to address complex site conditions and adjust to the many logistical day-to-day changes on sites worldwide.
When considering the increased adoption of AR/VR tech and the decrease in costs associated with wearable devices (such as smart glasses & augmented or virtual headsets), we’re excited about the future of construction. Augmented reality makes it possible to create virtual designs that can be viewed in real-time, making building safer and more efficient.

 

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AR/VR technology is rapidly advancing

According to Trimble’s 2018 Construction Technology Survey, 94% of respondents are aware of AR/VR technology, and 65% plan to use it within their business over the next few years1. There are several relevant use-cases in which the construction industry can benefit from adopting AR/VR tech. Augmented reality and virtual reality allow users to experience a world interconnected with data.

Construction companies have been experimenting with virtual reality devices for several years now. A notable example is VR headsets for 3D modeling coordination during design, retrofits, or renovations. These allow architects and engineers to collaborate on projects by sharing their work, mainly through 3D models, directly on one platform without relying on paper printouts or other physical means of communication. In addition, the demographic shift in the workforce brings with it shifting expectations toward technology. The construction industry is seeing a new breed of digitally-native staff members who grew up with technology and are adept at leveraging it in their daily roles.

Construction is one of the most physically-demanding activities, putting workers at risk for accidents and lost work hours. There are lasting health repercussions to on-the-job accidents. Usage of AR/VR technologies is helping to solve that problem by increasing risk awareness, mitigation, and safety monitoring. As construction companies embrace these new technologies, the impact on the industry is sure to be significant. The good news is that this trend is already underway in the construction industry and shows no signs of slowing down.

 

MBS_ARVR_03Benefits of using AR and VR tech in the construction industry

The need for new infrastructure and buildings is a continuous process that demands teams with modern equipment to finish them on time. Augmented reality/virtual reality devices are increasingly utilized to view real-time data of construction jobs as they are happening. Such devices help construction professionals to understand the work in detail and within context. With the help of these devices, it is possible to monitor activities that must be carried out in a working environment and see how the job is progressing.

Take augmented reality glasses and drones, for example. Many construction businesses have adopted them to monitor building activities remotely, saving a lot of time, energy, and resources. Construction sites can be high-risk environments due to various heavy equipment. They are also among the most inefficient for raw material staging. By implementing AR/VR tech, construction operations can illustrate how real-time data, instruction prompts, and weather alerts establish a comprehensive view of their complex working environments. Thus, organizations are likely to develop big-data capabilities to efficiently collect and analyze physical assets on the go, at any time, anywhere. These enhanced capabilities allow workers to be highly conscious of challenges and responsive regarding their activities.

IIt’s worth noting that while AR/VR tech enables stakeholders to interact with real-time insights into the construction activities, none of this is possible without a practical and sustainable framework for data management. This need also comes with staffing and resource challenges that cannot be ignored, as “data experts” are in high demand. Nevertheless, this is a critical hurdle that must be crossed if organizations are to leverage the actual value of these technologies and make it easy for them to find a way to connect with their workers and partners in a secure, private, and accessible digital platform.

 

MBS_ARVR_04There’s an expansion of construction-specific use cases to consider

Even though construction businesses are starting to adopt Augmented and Virtual Reality technologies in their operations, it will still be long before wearing smart glasses is commonplace. Nevertheless, we’ll likely see mobile phone-based AR/VR adoption become more prevalent. The widespread adoption of smartphones has led to AR apps that capture issues in the field. There’s a growing list of relevant use cases to explore. Many apps offer 3D walkthroughs, AR-based measuring, and scanning, allowing construction professionals to understand their projects before making critical decisions.

So far, throughout this week's Ready for Next post, we have explored the practical needs and pain points that make a strong case for implementing AR and VR on construction sites. Combining these technologies can produce innovative solutions for many construction problems. Let’s discuss some emerging AR/VR tech applications that provide relevant use-cases:

  • Design & 3D Model Coordination: AR/VR tools allow project stakeholders to view their designs on-site and get an idea of the critical areas of a project. AR tools are also being used to show clients a realistic visualization of their completed projects, saving time and money by preventing costly changes at the last minute due to client dissatisfaction. Designing a project in 3D, iterating designs in collaboration with all parties, and communicating phases with stakeholders before a building is even started can help increase efficiency, reduce material waste, and shorten the overall project duration. These may also assist in holding collaborative design review sessions with remote teams across the globe.

  • Quality Training for Supervisory Staff: Construction site supervisors often need to know how best to supervise their workers and ensure safety. This type of training also helps with on-demand continued education, testing staff on critical scenarios or contingency/emergency plans, and allowing supervisors to identify potential hazards on-site (such as moving equipment).

  • Material Product Application and Installation Training: One of the biggest challenges facing construction companies today is finding qualified laborers who can help them complete work on time and within budget. AR/VR reality can help alleviate this by shortening learning curves and allowing untrained staff to simulate real-life scenarios. These provide a safe environment while limiting the potential risk of exposure. AR/VR training can also offer an immersive experience to ensure the most stringent best practices, industry standards, and certified application requirements are met.

  • Virtual Construction Sequence Coordination: Several teams typically need to coordinate large-scale projects, such as buildings or public infrastructure. This process can be challenging without an easy way to visualize what each team is doing at any given time during the project lifecycle. AR/VR provides real-time updates on all aspects of the project in a centralized place. From site safety to logistics planning, schedule tracking, and risk avoidance/detection, all can be considered against a project schedule or timeline.

  • Site Safety, Construction Site Logistics Planning: Having a virtual model of your construction site can help you plan out deliveries and identify potential hazards such as poor visibility or electrical lines. This level of planning allows visualizing a model within its real/physical context to mitigate risks before they become life-threatening or expensive issues.

  • Project Schedule & Progress Tracking: An augmented reality app could overlay key milestones on top of your project site map, making it easy to track progress against the agreed schedule. This could also be applied to individual tasks within projects, allowing managers to identify bottlenecks and adjust subcontractor performance where necessary.

  • Risk Avoidance & Detection: Providing workers with access to connected devices enhances their ability to identify potential risks such as fragile surfaces or areas with contaminants before entering them – decreasing the chances of unexpected accidents. For example, suppose there is an electrical conduit behind a wall that needs to be removed before demolition can begin. In that case, AR can display this information instantly to avoid cutting it during demolition. Some applications actively track equipment and material movements on-site, providing statistical-based assessments. Through these systems, site superintendents can identify their current level of risk and whether current site practices are within pre-established safe/tolerable parameters.

  • Remotely Operating Vehicles & Equipment: Operating vehicles and equipment remotely from a safe distance is a huge win for safety and efficiency. This VR use case has been implemented in the manufacturing, healthcare, and defense industries, but its application in construction is currently limited. Given the decreasing implementation costs and the acceleration towards remote work experienced during pandemic lockdowns, it is reasonable to expect significant advances in adoption rates. For example, remote operators will no longer expose themselves unnecessarily while operating heavy machinery. Instead, operators can safely control their equipment using VR goggles or other devices to see what’s happening and execute work in real-time without being there physically.
  • Providing quick access to field data (Drawings, Details, MSDS, EPDs): AR/VR can make a big difference for contractors in making information accessible. There’s a myriad of reasons why companies often need immediate access to essential documents when mobile. When time is pressing, it is crucial for construction professionals to obtain the data they need regardless of where they are. Visualizing the design intent behind a detail or how materials are supposed to overlap are significant productivity wins.

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AR/VR will play a significant role in shaping the future of executing buildings and infrastructure

AR technology is one of the most significant disruptors in the construction sector, allowing stakeholders to make agile decisions. While AR/VR tech has primarily been associated with 3D/Wearable glasses, this technology has been developing quite consistently within the current capabilities of mobile phones. Thus, AR technology’s piloting and adoption are reasonably accessible regarding a learning curve and resource commitment. These technologies are expected to increase in the years ahead as they become more cost-efficient and easier to implement.

As we’ve discussed in the use-cases above, the benefits of AR/VR for construction companies are clear: Improving project efficiency, reducing costs, enhancing quality control, and safeguarding personnel safety are all areas that will be impacted by increased adoption. Construction leaders will be able to find solutions to complex problems, directly observe under-construction projects from a distance make real-time decisions based on that data, and assess first-hand job site conditions allowing all parties to stay safer while on the job site. Therefore AR/VR technologies can transform how construction businesses fundamentally operate. While some solutions will be available “off the shelf,” it will be up to each construction company to tailor their usage to their own practices, capitalizing on untapped opportunities.

Topics: managing risks, Construction Project Planning, Expert Insights, Efficiency/Productivity in Construction, Market Insights, Sustainability

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