Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality: Changing What We Can See
Have you ever shopped for an apartment or house online? You browse through various websites, perusing floor plans and pictures of dozens of spaces. Finally, you find an apartment that meets your requirements.
The floor plan shows the living room is 13-ft. by 15-ft., and you think, “That sounds good.” You study the photograph of the living room and think, “That looks amazing.” But when you view the actual space in person, you think, “Wow, it looks much smaller than in the picture!” Now imagine instead of looking at a floor plan and a picture, you put on a virtual reality (VR) headset and toured the space virtually.
VR provides added information that allows you to understand depth and scale. With VR, you can truly experience the size and dimension of the space. Applying this tool to design, construction, and operations and maintenance generates endless possibilities.
In design review, building owners can tour the design intent in a way that allows them to better interpret how the space will look and function. Engineers will be able to more realistically visualize the space and how and where to locate systems and equipment. Contractors will be able to more effectively discern how to install systems and equipment. Maintenance staff will appreciate a significantly better way to evaluate how they will access equipment for maintenance, including viewing the projected space between pieces of equipment or structures, ensuring there is available room to efficiently maintain it.
VR completely immerses the user in the environment and essentially creates the experience of a new reality. The concept of these systems in the AECO industry and beyond are driving billions of dollars into VR funding; just look at the ventures of Google, Apple, Microsoft, and newcomer, Improbable.
Augmented reality (AR) makes additional vital information accessible for construction professionals. AR is the process of superimposing virtual information on the real world. With AR and using either a hand-held device, tablet, smartphone, or a headset like Microsoft’s HoloLens or DAQRI’s Smart Helmet, you can visualize both the real world and virtual world together.
Applying AR in the construction arena enables 4D, time-based model information to be superimposed on real-world conditions. This enables immediate feedback because it reflects what is currently constructed to what will be or what should be completed in the field according to the project schedule.
During the operations and maintenance phase, AR can be applied to look through walls, floors, and ceilings by superimposing as-built modeling data on the finished structure. This greatly improves the ability to respond to maintenance emergencies and significantly enhances the efficiency of operations and maintenance.
Combining AR and VR technologies with building information modeling (BIM), an operative standard for the AECO industry, provides a greatly improved method of visualizing geometric data and spatial relationships and delivers the extended information related to what is being viewed.
BIM provides the essential “backbone” data that is collected, updated, and shared in real time through the project lifecycle. A well-defined BIM process that begins in the design phase and continues through construction and into operations and maintenance ensures access to a data-rich model. Staff gains immediate access to peripheral information like equipment installation instructions, operating manuals, and warranties all in real-time, heads-up displays. The integration of BIM in a project — with or without other technologies — can reduce costs, shorten schedules, enhance communications, and improve overall productivity.
The investments being made and rapid growth in both AR and VR software and hardware definitively demonstrate these technologies are already playing major roles in design, construction, and operations and will only continue to become more prominent in the future.
While there is an upfront cost to purchase the hardware and software — in the thousands, but not tens of thousands — they are feasible and worthwhile additions to budgets that demonstrate their benefits quickly. As organizations are embracing new technologies — BIM, AR, and VR — in all project phases, they are recognizing the ability of these tools to deliver impressive results.