Companies across multiple segments see augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology, commonly referred to under the umbrella term cross reality (XR), as a means to improving the productivity of their operations.
According to a survey by ABI Research, 75 percent of businesses expressed some level of interest in augmented reality, with 40 percent of respondents in the manufacturing sector already having implemented the technology in their operations.
XR can be attractive to companies in the construction industry in much the same way that it has been beneficial to manufacturing enterprises. Both before and during the construction, XR gives a project team a view of the built environment before a single shovel of dirt is turned.
This past week I was in the midwest presenting to several engineering and construction firms about current and future XR trends in the industry. We discussed the pros and cons of using XR on and off the job site, and how to leverage each to their maximum potential. To summarize, there are three general buckets of opportunity to explore: safety, coordination of trades and efficiency improvements.
Safety. While worker safety on the job site has greatly improved over the last decade, any injury or fatality is one too many. XR has the potential to mitigate accidents through better training, monitoring and even eliminating placing people in dangerous situations.
"By simulating a construction environment, workers can benefit from hands-on learning in a safe, low-risk environment."
Training workers in a virtual, full-scale immersive environment is a clear and direct opportunity. By simulating a construction environment, workers can benefit from hands-on learning in a safe, low-risk environment. Using statistics of job site injuries, companies can identify dangerous situations and allow workers to identify and rehearse best-practices, all from the safety of their MR headset. For instance, a crane simulation can give workers practice in handling heavy machinery without the possibility of hurting themselves or others.
Oftentimes injuries are the result of people being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Using IoT and jobsite cameras, we can detect the movement of workers and correlate them to our digital model of the construction site. When personnel enter restricted or dangerous areas, alerts can be posted and assessed in the virtual twin. Workers in danger are immediately contacted and removed from the situation.
We can also impact the exposure to danger by reducing the number of people who must be in hazardous situations. For example, teams working in nuclear facilities can reduce exposure by incorporating a HoloLens on the jobsite. While one worker enters the high risk area wearing a HoloLens, other team members may observe and communicate at a safe distance.
The coordination of trades can benefit from incorporating augmented content on the job site. Building trades can be visualized to assess potential conflicts and mistakes as well as discuss construction sequencing. Viewers in the headset can collaborate by walking the floor and discussing these digital overlays. This information becomes much easier to consume at full scale in a three-dimensional environment vs. looking at a flat computer screen.
Even in the pre-construction phase, XR can help architects, engineers, and general contractors, as well as their customers, visualize designs and construction plans. Traditionally, this information is displayed in two-dimensional drawings, which is not a natural means to understanding spatial data.
With XR, users can preview buildings in three-dimensional models. In AR, users can view a dollhouse model on a tabletop while maintaining eye contact with others in the room. In VR, users can take a 360-degree walkthrough of what the interior of a building will look like when constructed.
Construction workers are also interested in efficiency gained by using augmented tools to speed their work. For example, digital overlays can be used to layout an intricate grid of rebar, review complex 3D forms before a concrete pour or verify structural elements are plumb and in the correct location.
In addition, remote collaboration can be useful in creating efficiencies in the field by minimizing delays. If a worker has a question about a certain procedure, they can initiate a video call with an expert offsite. A device like the HoloLens can allow experts to see what workers’ point of view through the embedded camera and guide them through complex processes in real time.
XR is transforming the construction industry. Headset manufacturers are working to get the necessary OSHA ratings to allow headsets on construction sites. Battery capacity, computing power, increased field of view and the display brightness are all factors that make an impact on the usefulness of the tool.
We are big fans of the Microsoft HoloLens as well as the Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) headsets. The HoloLens is a cord free, self-contained mobile AR device that allows users to naturally interact with one another and their environment. If the limited field of view is a factor, we suggest our client’s explore the WMR device. While corded and dependant upon a PC computing source, it is has high visual quality and total immersion. In either choice, there is a pain free mechanism to port the content into either device.
XR is often referred to as immersive computing, and that description succinctly sums up why the technology can help revolutionize the construction industry. From architectural renderings to engineering blueprints, XR can help design and construction professionals see a building before it is built.
Jamie Fleming is the CEO of Studio216. Studio216 is a immersive technology agency focused on VR/AR/MR for the enterprise.