Significant obstacles must be overcome before technology associated with Augmented Reality (AR) can be reliably used on construction sites, a Sydney-based architect who has recently finished an international study on the subject says.

Rana Abboud noted there are many potential benefits of AR – the overlaying of a view of a physical real-world environment with computer generated sensory input which allows, for instance, computer generated images of a structure to be superimposed into a real life local view of a property before the physical building is constructed there – were significant.

She said, however, that a number of barriers still needed to be overcome before adoption of the technology in Australia becomes widespread, especially during the building process on construction sites.

During a recent study tour throughout Europe, North America and Oceania, Abboud, who presented her findings at a National Association of Women in Construction event in Sydney last month was surprised at the extent to which hype surrounding the technology was being contradicted by difficulties with getting usable applications out to the public.

“In some of the places I went to, the marketing around it was really glossy and amazing,” Abboud said. “But you actually tried the application and things didn’t quite work as planned. For instance, the Museum of Vancouver put out an app that we trialled and the tracking was not quite there, and things would disappear on you and then re-appear. It wasn’t stable enough.”

“So seeing the reality of some AR use cases was quite interesting. There are challenges to overcome – not just technological but also from a human and financial perspective.”

“That for me was one of the biggest learning curves.”

In her paper, Abboud outlined a number of possible uses for augmented reality across the different stages of architecture, building and post-completion maintenance.

During the construction phase, she says builders and tradespeople on site would use the technology to geo-locate things which are not there but would be there in the future, to discover the position of hidden elements within an existing building or structure (such as hidden underground pipes or cables, or ducts hidden behind a wall) and to visualise things which cannot be seen, such as where boundaries are and where outer walls needed to be positioned.


She witnessed builders entering a site and using either a handheld (iPad or mobile phone) or headset devices (the latter being more likely so as to allow the builder to work freely whilst still using the device) to map their exact position on the site and overlay BIM information.

That would allow the builder to ‘see’ the boundary, the setup for foundations, the locations where columns would be placed and where critical spaces are. This is much more intuitive, Abboud says, than trying to work out where the boundary is and where everything needs to go from traditional plans.

Still, she warns, there are challenges. Incorrect, incomplete or out-of-date data, for example, could have serious consequences if it showed the wrong location for a hidden pipe, wall stud or cable.

Bigger obstacles still revolve around the development of systems which can reliably track the position of objects relative to the builder as he or she moves around the site. GPS, for example, is used in a number of the applications Abboud looked at, but only works to within five to 30-metre accuracy, is susceptible to weather changes or signal blocking by neighbouring structures and typically does not work indoors.

Meanwhile, Abboud says resistance to new technologies is being amplified in AR’s case by disappointment following excessive levels of hype when users try it and experience stability problems as well as the need to deal with privacy issues surrounding use of camera recording devices in head mounts and safety considerations associated with use of head mounted or hand held devices on site.

Because of this, while the technology will become more commonly used in the coming years, Abboud says widespread adoption on construction sites will take longer, with a recent five to 10-year time frame being put on this by Gartner looking more realistic.

“For the construction stage applications, I think it’s going to take a lot longer just to make sure that wrinkles are ironed out and you have all of your workflows in place to be able to deliver a cohesive BIM model that will then allow you to draw from that for your AR overlay,” she said.

“It’s going to be within that five to ten year timeline before you really start to see it crop up.”