The Future of Construction: Virtual and Augmented Reality

The construction industry is ever changing with the integration of new technology. Virtual reality has been playing a role in the construction industry for the past 55 years in in the form of BIM, or building information modeling.  Originally developed in 1962, BIM is a visual representation of the characteristics of a construction plan, both physical and functional.  BIM was first introduced by Douglas C. Englebart as an object based manipulation database that could give architects an idea of how a building would look when complete. The first BIM system was implemented in 1963 by Ivan Sutherland, whose system included a simple sketchpad program. In the 1970s, both constructive solid geometry and boundary representation were introduced. Constructive solid geometry, or CSG, allows the user to create a complex surface by combining simple objects. Boundary representation, or BREP, is a combination of topology and geometry that allows a user to use curves and lines to create an object. In 1984, Gábor Bojár released the first BIM technologies to be available on a personal computer. These programs would be later known as ArchiCAD and Revit, and are still used by many builders today.

Due recent technological advancements and clients demanding more in-depth previews of what a project will look like when it is complete, the construction industry is beginning to experiment with augmented reality. Augmented reality is a technology that provides the user with a composite view by superimposing a computer-generated image on the user’s view. Augmented reality is different from virtual reality in that it can be used on location on a job site, rather than on a computer. It allows for a real-time view of what the finished product will look like.

One form of augmented reality recently introduced to the construction industry is a headset created by Microsoft called HoloLens. HoloLens is a set of glasses worn by the user that projects holographic images onto the user’s physical environment.  In other words, when a user wears HoloLens, they are able to see structures like walls and plumbing as if they were already built.  This is a huge advantage for construction companies because users can easily see potential problems and errors in the design of a project before construction has ever started.  This early error detection can lead to huge cost savings, because it avoids an error being made and consequently having to be fixed.

HoloLens also allows the user to utilize a virtual control panel so they can edit the design in real time. Users can select an element in the holographic image, such as a steel beam, and move it to a new location by dragging the image with their finger.  The control panel works much like a touchscreen computer.  This allows errors to be easily fixed in real time at zero cost.

The HoloLens is still in its early stages. Some concerns are image stuttering and lack of holograms in the peripheral view.  There are safety concerns as well.  The HoloLens goggles are bulky, making it difficult for user to wear a hard hat while using the glasses.  The glasses are also not heat-resistant or shatter-proof, where most safety glasses are.  There is also a concern of injury due to a misstep from altered perception or distraction.  However, these concerns are likely to be resolved quickly with the advancement of augmented reality technology.

While virtual reality has been used in construction for over 50 years, the invention of augmented reality is changing the way the construction industry plans for and designs projects. The real-time view allows for easy design modifications and early error detection, resulting in cost savings.  The real-time view also helps to keep projects on track and on budget. The development of construction industry technology is redefining what it means to design and plan a project.

Works Cited:

Wood, Chris (2016, October 5). Game On: Virtual and augmented reality ready to redefine construction. Construction Dive.  Retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602124/augmented-reality-could-speed-up-construction-projects/

Woyke, Elizabeth (2016, August 10). Augmented Reality Could Speed Up Construction Projects. MIT Technology Review.  Retrieved from http://www.archdaily.com/302490/a-brief-history-of-bim