Augmented reality (AR) is a fast emerging and exciting technology that is likely to have a significant impact on the way buildings are designed and constructed.
AR is a new technology that creates a composite view of real world environments, superimposing a computer-generated image on the user's own real world view.
In a construction scenario, AR applications coupled with a smart device or wearable technology makes it possible to produce a real scale 3D model of a building or specific room merged with your surroundings.
In addition to this, AR has the ability to enable construction teams and consultants to drastically improve the awareness of design inconsistencies, outstanding tasks, safety issues, defective works and countless other site-related variables.
AR and design
While virtual reality can help designers visualise the aesthetics of a structure on a screen, AR leverages the real world to enable the user to see exactly how all the different areas of a plan fit together.
This means clashes in design can be addressed before they happen, saving time and reducing risk of a decline in project profitability.
However, the applicability of AR in construction stems far beyond anticipating and taking action on design clashes. Every site-related activity from performing and reviewing a defect walk to informing everyone on site of a safety issue can be recorded and conveyed in a real world setting.
There are many cloud-based construction management software’s emerging with tools to aid site teams with all the many different day-to-day activities that take place. Adopting AR will not only improve the awareness of site-related data, but will also allow for a seamless user interaction and collaborative efforts in real-time.
Using AR as a form of personal assistant on site seems somewhat laughable, although with the rapid advancement in AR and GPS technology, walking onto a construction site each day and being guided to the location of your outstanding tasks has now become possible.
With construction management platforms beginning to provide a greater level of collaboration between all project stakeholders, this kind of real time control could see tasks being completed faster and more importantly, improving the awareness of outstanding tasks and related deadlines.
Defects and safety management
There is no questioning the importance of defect tracking and resolution on a construction site.
Currently there are construction management solutions available that offer defects management functionality. Coupling this functionality with AR elements will completely change the way defects are recorded, distributed and managed.
AR makes it is possible for a user to create and distribute real time data while walking around a construction site, and to create tags visible to other users. The assignee of a defect can be notified and directed to the defect item through a wearable device.
Imagine walking into a room with smart glasses and being able to see all of the outstanding issues related to that room by viewing AR tags. This could dramatically increase the quality of projects and also the awareness of potential safety concerns.
Combining artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR)
Now this may be a stretch in the next five years or so, although I believe that the world wide impact of artificial intelligence will be a defining point in technology and will directly affect everyone.
As AR becomes more developed and is introduced more commonly within construction, there is an opportunity to look toward introducing AI into management platforms to be able to learn from a user’s actions in certain situations and help streamline their usual processes.
An example on a construction site could be looking at AR tags for a safety issue that is overdue. The AI within the platform could automatically prompt the user to send a reminder email to the responsible contact, as this is the usual action of the user when viewing an overdue AR tag.
Another example could be that on every rainy day in the project’s location, the user will send a wet weather delay notice to their client. Again, the AI can learn these actions and prompt the user to complete the task.
I believe that it is possible that AR could completely eliminate the need for 2D drawings, but this is unlikely in the near future. AR technology must advance to the point where all information currently conveyed on 2D drawings can be accurately displayed and manipulated in an AR environment.
Furthermore, in a sector that has widely been recognised as being quite resistant to the adoption of new technology, I believe such a dramatic overhaul of processes will have to be introduced slowly over a long period of time.
When will AR become an industry standard in the AEC sector?
Annual investment in augmented and virtual reality companies is growing at a rapid pace, according to a new report issued by Digi-Capital.
"Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality investment reached $1.1 billion in the first 2 months of this year," Tim Merel, founder and CEO of Eyetouch Reality and Digi-Capital, said in a statement. "This is the first time that AR/VR investment has topped a billion dollars in any year (let alone in two months), and shows incredible growth compared to the $700 million invested during all of 2015." Digi-Capital also predicts an AR market worth $90 billion annually by 2020.
Although we are at the early development stages of this new market, it is exciting to think about the endless possibilities that these new technologies will play in the AEC sector in the coming years, and how they will positively impact the efficiency, safety, quality and overall collaboration of every construction project in the future.