Exploring AR and VR in the Construction


In today's rapidly evolving construction landscape, technological innovations are reshaping traditional practices and paving the way for more efficient and effective project execution. Among these innovations are augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) - and they are emerging as powerful tools -revolutionising the way construction projects are planned, designed, and executed, writes John Ridgeway.

The global market for AR & VR in construction is estimated to reach a staggering $18.2 billion by 2027, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 45.5%. This rapid expansion reflects the increasing recognition of the benefits these technologies offer.

AR & VR are transforming project planning and design in profound ways. Virtual walkthroughs, where you can immerse yourself in 3D models of the future building, identifying potential issues and refining designs before construction begins, are becoming the norm.

Teams separated geographically can collaborate seamlessly in real-time using VR models, enhancing communication and decision-making. The technology further identifies potential clashes between different building elements (e.g., pipes and wires) in the virtual space, minimising costly rework on site.

Skanska, the Swedish construction giant is a leader in VR and uses this technology to create immersive walkthroughs for clients, resulting in a reported 20% increase in client satisfaction.

Traditionally, the company’s clients relied on static 2D plans and architectural models to visualise future projects. This often led to misunderstandings, changes during construction and ultimately, dissatisfaction. Skanska recognised the limitations of traditional methods and sought a more engaging solution, partnering with VR software developer VIVE Studio to create immersive 3D walkthroughs of their projects.

Clients wearing VR headsets are transported into a life-sized, interactive model of their future building. They can walk through rooms, explore different design options, and even virtually experience different finishes and materials.

The VR experience allows clients to truly grasp the spatial relationships, scale, and flow of the building, leading to better decision-making. Equally as important, they become emotionally invested in the project, fostering a stronger connection with Skanska and the final outcome.

By experiencing the design virtually, clients can identify potential issues early on, minimising costly changes during construction. VR walkthroughs further facilitate clear communication between clients, architects, and construction teams, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Skanska say that their VR initiative has yielded impressive results where clients feel more involved, informed, and confident about their projects. VR presentations help them make quicker decisions, leading to faster project starts and early identification of potential issues, minimises costly rework.

Skanska's success story is not unique. Many other construction companies are also exploring the potential of VR to enhance client experiences.

Enhancing Safety Training

On another level VR is also allowing for realistic simulations of hazardous construction environments, providing safe and effective training for workers:

In particular, it allows for the practice of complex procedures, by training for situations like working at heights or using heavy machinery in a controlled VR environment, minimising real-world risks. Workers can also experience emergencies by responding to simulated fire or equipment failure scenarios, instilling crucial safety protocols.

Bechtel, the global engineering firm uses VR to train workers on complex construction procedures, which has resulted in a reported 60% reduction in safety incidents.

Construction inherently carries safety risks, and traditional training methods often struggle to fully replicate real-world scenarios. Bechtel sought a more engaging and effective way to train workers on complex procedures, particularly for high-risk tasks like working at heights or handling heavy machinery.

Bechtel partnered with VR training developer STRIVR to create highly realistic VR simulations of construction sites and procedures. Workers wearing VR headsets are transported into immersive environments where they can practice tasks like scaffolding assembly and the proper procedures for building and dismantling scaffolding safely.

This training has been extended to working at heights, by experiencing the challenges and safety protocols of being on elevated platforms. Virtually operating forklifts, cranes, and other machinery in a controlled environment, has also been included.

The Benefits of VR Training are now well documented. The immersive experience increases worker engagement, leading to better information retention. VR realistically simulates potential hazards, allowing workers to practice safe responses in a risk-free environment. Virtual practice also builds muscle memory and prepares workers for real-world tasks.

Bechtel have stated that their VR training program has yielded impressive results. As well as a 60% reduction in safety incidents, workers feel more prepared and confident in their abilities, VR training has also been more cost-effective than traditional methods and there has been a positive impact on company culture.

Bechtel's success story is inspiring other companies to adopt VR training. The construction industry is increasingly recognising the potential of VR to improve safety, efficiency, and worker satisfaction. As VR technology continues to evolve, we can expect to see even more innovative training solutions emerge, leading to a safer and more skilled workforce.

Engaging Client Presentations

Architects have also been quick to see the benefits of this new technology, which is giving them the ability to impress prospective clients with interactive and immersive presentations using AR & VR:

AECOM, a leading architecture and engineering firm, is leveraging augmented reality (AR) technology to bridge the gap between plans and reality. By overlaying building plans onto construction sites, they are fostering improved communication and collaboration with clients, leading to a smoother and more efficient construction process.

Using tablets or smartphones equipped with AR apps, clients can overlay digital building plans onto their physical surroundings. This immersive experience allows them to see the building in 3D to gain a better understanding of the scale, layout, and spatial relationships of the structure, spot potential clashes or discrepancies between the plans and the site early on, preventing costly rework later. This further enables them to visualise the completed building on top of the partially built structure, providing a sense of progress and achievement.

AECOM has reported improved client communication and satisfaction. Clients feel more involved and informed, leading to better project outcomes. Early identification of issues also saves time and money as AR-guided tasks lead to fewer errors and faster completion times.

AECOM's pioneering efforts demonstrate the immense potential of AR in the construction industry. As AR technology evolves and becomes more accessible, we can expect to see its adoption grow across various aspects of construction, leading to a more collaborative, efficient, and transparent building process.

The future for construction

So, we can see that the future of AR & VR in construction is brimming with possibilities, such as real-time data integration. Construction sites infused with AR, displaying real-time data like material availability and worker location, will become more common. Smart glasses and haptic gloves providing workers with on-the-go information and guidance will also be the norm as AI algorithms using AR & VR data suggest design improvements and optimise construction processes.

This in turn should lead to increased productivity and efficiency and improved safety training and reduced workplace accidents. Data-driven insights from AR & VR models will lead to better-informed choices and enhanced communication and visualisation will lead to higher client satisfaction.

It means that AR & VR are no longer just buzzwords, but transformative tools shaping the future of construction. By embracing these technologies, the industry can build safer, more efficient, and sustainable structures while enhancing client engagement and worker satisfaction. As the technology matures and becomes more accessible, the possibilities are endless. The construction industry is at the precipice of a digital revolution, and AR & VR are leading the charge towards a brighter tomorrow.


Skanska USA: https://www.usa.skanska.com/what-we-deliver/services/innovation/immersive-experiences/

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