The construction industry has predominantly been slow at adopting technological changes and has stuck mostly to traditional methods. This, however, is changing with the implementation of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in construction activities, right from the conceptualization of a project to its completion.
The adoption of technology in the construction industry has been slow when compared to other fields. However, construction firms have realized the potential of digital technologies like AR and VR and have started integrating them into their building projects. The applications of AR and VR in construction help firms to save costs and provide a better experience to their customers.
Application of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in Construction Practices
Here are some of the applications of AR and VR in the construction industry:
1. Leveraging AR and VR for Effective Planning
Construction firms require different teams to carry out a project, and swift and efficient communication is the key to complete the project as per schedule. AR and VR can bridge the communication gap between different members carrying out the project. AR headsets can help send site data recorded by site supervisors or engineers to the design team for clarifications or if any issue arises. A construction manager or contractor can use AR to do a virtual walk-through of a site using an overlay of Building Information Model on top of the physical model to assess and compare changes, if any, and review project documentation. Any dispute which arises can be solved immediately saving precious time, labor, and costs. AR technology can also help in reducing errors at construction sites. It guides the worker with the proper alignment of materials and helps avoid mistakes. Time and construction costs can be saved to a large extent using AR technologies on construction sites. Major construction companies have started using AR and VR technologies like Microsoft HoloLens to assist the workers and supervisors in construction activities at the site. Teams can compare the work in progress with the original design to keep the worksite and office in sync with an all-digital workflow. AR and VR apps can be used in the conceptualization phase too, where architects and designers can utilize the technology to render a 3D model of the project instead of a 2D drawing. This facilitates the engineers working on-site to have a better and clear understanding of the project and eliminates the need to carry a blueprint for inspection all the time. Clients and architects can view the completed building from different perspectives and scales. They can even inspect sites visually to identify hidden problems or flaws.
2. Use of AR and VR for Improving Safety Standards
The construction industry leads in the total worker deaths across all sectors. 971 deaths occurred in 2017, representing 20.8% of all private sector deaths. The use of AR and VR in construction can vastly improve safety standards on the construction site. These technologies can be used to increase the awareness of on-site conditions to prevent subjecting workers or supervisors to hazards. A construction site always has materials lying around unsupervised, which can pose a threat to the safety of workers. The workers can be given a precise location of other workers and construction equipment lying around haphazardly at the construction site. This can lead to fatalities on-site if workers or supervisors do not pay proper attention. AR and VR can also be used to provide training to workers without physically subjecting them to the safety hazards. VR can be used with advanced computer simulations to create an amazingly convincing environment similar to real-life situations. A US-based company has already implemented VR based safety training courses to its employees where possible hazardous situations are simulated, and correct procedures to handle the situation are taught using the technology. The data collected from training courses can help improve the technology further. AR is changing the landscape of safety practices at construction sites. Smart helmets can help in determining the precise alignment and inform the worker if materials are not aligned properly, which may pose a risk to people at the construction site. Workers can also be trained to use heavy equipment, handling tools without exposing them to the risk of injuries.
3. Use of VR and AR for an Immersive Experience
The use of AR and VR in the construction industry will completely change the sales process in the industry. AR and VR can bring an immersive experience to the buyers as well as help in the marketing and sales of the company. Construction firms can provide a fully furnished 3D model of the apartment to the buyer using AR and VR technologies. Augmented reality can provide an overlay of the furnished apartment during the construction phase. VR can take this experience a step further, providing a complete tour of the furnished apartment in the comforts of our homes. Potential buyers can get a clear idea as to how the final apartment will look like and help decide the purchase. Interior designers can leverage these technologies to pitch ideas to their clients and make them have a better understanding of the design idea. The sales and marketing teams will benefit the most from these technologies as they can attract potential buyers within the comforts of their office spaces.
Challenges Faced in Implementing AR and VR in Construction
Although the use of AR and VR in construction is hugely beneficial, it doesn’t come without its own set of challenges. Following are some of the challenges faced in implementing AR and VR technologies in the construction industry:
1. Lack of Resources Allocated to IT
The construction industry has predominantly relied on traditional construction methods. It has seen very few technological advancements as compared to other fields. Less than 1% of annual sales volume in the construction sector is spent on IT. That’s probably because implementing technology is a costly affair. It requires a large amount of capital and human resources to develop advanced technologies that are beneficial to the industry. The construction companies are apprehensive of spending on research and development of in-house technologies or purchasing technology available from other companies for their organization. This mindset is slowly changing with major companies incorporating technology in their construction practices, but the overall adoption in the sector is growing at a very low pace. The adoption of AR and VR in construction will only progress further if companies invest substantially in these technologies.
2. Lack of Knowledge and Training
As mentioned earlier, the implementation of technology in the construction industry is minimal. Very few professionals have exposure to and knowledge about using AR and VR technologies. The knowledge is also very limited as the adoption of these technologies at most organizations is at a very basic level. The workers employed for construction activities in third world countries are mostly uneducated, and providing them training to use technology is a tedious process. They are used to conventional construction practices and lack basic technical knowledge.
Using digital technologies has allowed companies in nearly every industry to make unprecedented leaps in operational excellence to gain a competitive advantage. Similarly, there is a massive opportunity for companies in the construction industry to adopt modern technology. Although contractors currently faces challenges in implementing AR and VR in construction, they will help drive the industry forward, only if the industry is open to implementing them on a large scale.