Welcome to the Future of the Building Industry
We’ve all heard of virtual reality. It’s becoming a tool for education, travel, real estate, and of course gaming. Augmented reality is a similar technology that is an offshoot of virtual reality, but with real-world applications in business, architecture and construction.

Augmented reality (AR) incorporates a live copied view of a physical environment whose elements are supplemented (or augmented) by computer-generated sensory input. Where virtual reality replaces the real-world with a completely artificial construct, augmented reality takes the real world and adds to it – in the case of construction and architecture by overlaying a 3D model of your design, for example.

With augmented reality technology, like computer vision and object recognition, the surrounding real world becomes interactive and able to be digitally manipulated. In AR software must incorporate real-world coordinates, independent from the camera or from images.

In construction and architecture, AR allows the user to place a 3D model of a design “onto” an existing real-world environment. This can be accomplished using mobile devices, like a tablet, and 3D models. For example, as a contractor, you can show clients a proposed design in the context of a real-world space using an Apple iPad or other devices.

Seeing a 3D model of a proposed structure in context can help with planning the use of space, as well as visualizing the completed design. Today, this technology has become democratized and is available on a per-project basis, so even smaller firms can take advantage of the benefits AR has to offer.

See Through Walls!
One very promising technology currently in development, specifically for the building trades is called a “Smart Helmet.” This is a wearable AR system being developed for the building and construction industry that will allow engineers, designers or builders to take a Building Information Model to the site, and wear it on their heads! By using a visor on your helmet, along with the BIM, you can experience the site as an immersive 3D environment, at scale.

Giving crew this level of building information lets them effectively see “through” walls to better understand spatial relationships, placement of infrastructure, and even detect issues earlier to allow for more informed decisions and reducing errors that can result in rework, or redesign after a project is underway. It empowers teams to make decisions in the field, in real-time as opposed to waiting until the end of a shift and speaking with a supervisor. 

Augmented reality helmets are currently available at a cost of around $15,000 each, but are still in the early development stages, but the BIM model is just the first step. While at this stage, the reality is that the value of this model is at about 25% of potential, the next 75% consists of connecting teams in the field with the rest of the contractual project information in real-time. 

Once it is proven reliable, AR will have far-reaching impacts on how we will interact with information in context, for example, on the job site. In the construction industry, it will prove to resolve a number of problems including safety awareness, reducing “rework” and improving delivery times.

AR promises to change the way buildings are constructed and the technology is still in its infancy. As a contractor, it’s important to get ahead of the curve and at least explore this technology now as it begins to change our industry.

 

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