As Tasmania’s Royal Hobart Hospital was being built, one task involved constructing long, curving benches over five floors – each with unique patterns and shapes.

With precast concrete suppliers being unable to meet desired budgets, the task fell to bricklaying contractor All Brick.

The company faced difficulties, however, as the requirement to use many bricks which needed to be cut differently and laid with precision challenged even highly skilled workers.

To overcome this, they turned to  virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR) startup Fologram – a maker of middleware which provides a connection between hardware such as the Microsoft HoloLens to computer aided design software. Fologram modelled each brick in 3D and produced a design model showing where each needed to go along with the shape required to make precise curves as the bricks were cut. Instead of string lines and plumb bobs, workers were given a holographic guide from their headset which guided them in placing each brick on site. As a result, the project was completed with seven hours of bricklaying.

Examples such as this underscore potential uses of technologies such as VR and AR to help deliver faster and better construction. At the recent Oracle Construction Technology Summit in Melbourne, Fologram chief product officer Gwilym Jahn spoke with Sourceable about the role of these in building.

According to Jahn, a common misconception is that AR and VR are interchangeable.

This is not the case.

At its core, AR deals with the physical real world which surrounds its users and superimposes computer generated images onto their view of something which is real and physically present in their location. Using AR, workers can go onto a physical building site and use their headset, eyewear or handheld devices to view a computer generated image which shows features which are either not present or not visible. Examples include the position where pipes need to be laid or the location of property boundaries.

Virtual reality, by contrast, involves the computer generated simulation of a 3D environment which can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way using electronic equipment such as helmets with screens fitted inside or gloves fitted with sensors. Unlike AR, virtual reality does not see users interact with an environment that is physically present in their location. Rather, users interact with environments that seem to be physically present.

Because of this, Jahn says AR can assist users to physically perform work on site. In fact, it was invented by Boeing engineers to help with manufacturing of aircraft wings by pinpointing where holes for cabling and other things needed to be drilled.

VR, by contrast, can be used to demonstrate how proposed buildings or structure might look and feel  but is not used in the actual making of that structure.

Next, users wearing AR headsets on site are still able to see each other and communicate – something which is difficult when using VR headsets.

When talking about AR in design and construction, Jahn speaks particularly of ‘mixed reality’ – the concept upon which his own company Fologram operates. Under this concept, digital content remains in position even as users move around. Where digital content prepared through mixed reality is placed on a table, for example, it remains in position when users move to the other side of the room as the system is aware of the physical environment and adjusts to where you are.

Because of these differences, Jahn says use cases for VR and AR differ.

Virtual reality can be used to create a ‘feel’ of being in a particular environment despite not actually being there. Clients can use VR to ‘walk’ through and ‘experience’ buildings which are yet to be constructed. Apprentices can ‘experience’ working in confined spaces through VR prior to going there for real.

AR and in particular mixed reality, by contrast, can be used to help make or construct things on site as numerous measurements, setup points and datums are replaced with a simple hologram showing where everything needs to be positioned.

As well, AR can enable workers on site to collaborate and discuss matters in a manner which is easy to understand or to receive visual instructions from others in remote locations.

Holographic instructions for complex assembly (Image: Art+Comm)

In Fologram’s case, Jahn says one area the technology is receiving uptake is complex public art.

In Germany, for instance, the company worked with Stuttgart based engineering firm ArtEngineering to develop an augmented reality application to assist with construction of a complex art installation known as the Futurium (pictured). The application enabled the fabrication team to see precise locations of panels in space along with step through construction information in sequence.

As technology advances, virtual reality and augmented reality are gaining traction.

As this happens, those delivering construction projects will benefit.

Top image: Holographic Construction of the Royal Hobart Hospital