Augmented Reality in Construction: 6 Applications

The construction job site is changing. Paper drawings, sketches, and design plans are giving way to drones, 3D models, and a new interactive experience called augmented reality.

Augmented reality, or AR for short, is one of the most talked about technology trends in construction. Using advanced camera and sensor technology, AR combines one’s physical surroundings with computer-generated information and presents it in real-time. While the technology has been used in video game for years, this “augmented” experience is recently making waves in construction, offering immense opportunities to improve the project lifecycle.

By combining digital and physical views, augmented reality is helping construction teams drive more efficiency, accuracy, and overall confidence in their projects. The AR global market is expected to grow $90 billion by 2020. Rather than replacing workers on the field, AR can be used to greatly enhance the ways humans and digital machines work together.

As the technology continues to mature and become adopted, augmented reality in construction will become an invaluable tool and has the potential to change the future of building. Read on to learn about the different applications AR has for the industry in 2019 and onward.

How Does Augmented Reality Work?

Animated graphic showing how augmented reality works to display real-time information over the real world.

Whereas virtual reality is strictly a digital experience, augmented reality combines real and digital into one immersive environment. AR projects 3D images on a person’s physical surroundings as they walk through with a mobile device or special helmet.

Using GPS and cameras, the AR unit is able to present real-time data geospatially, updating and displaying the necessary information as the user moves throughout the building space. Information such as schedules, operational details, and structural plans are easily accessible, allowing users to automate the construction process and make decisions on site.

How is AR Used in Construction?

With the ability to provide real-time information, augmented reality is being used within the industry to increase efficiency, improve safety, streamline collaboration, manage costs, and overall boost project confidence. Here are some of the tools that building teams are using AR in construction.

1. Project Planning

Animated graphic showing how designers can simulate and preview buildings with clients.

New developments in augmented reality are making it possible to generate 3D models directly on a 2D plan. Combined with 3D modeling software and building information modeling (BIM), construction companies can produce detailed, interactive models of building projects and present them to clients at the start of a project. This allows clients to get a realistic view of the project outcomes and make any desired changes before construction begins. Getting this level of client involvement early in the process helps prevent costly changes later and keeps clients engaged in the project.

Accuracy is an important component of any construction project. AR also allows teams to conduct walkthroughs of the entire project before it is executed, closely examining the details and components of the structure. This foresight can prevent schedule delays, reduce cost overruns, and identify any mistakes before they surface.

2. Automated Measurements

Animated graphic showing how AR users can make real-time measurements.

Augmented reality gear can measure a space’s physical properties, including its height, width and depth. Construction companies can incorporate this data into models, allowing them to generate even more accurate structures and have a more comprehensive view of how the project will look like. Having accurate measurements in construction ensures efficiency in the project time and the exact labor and materials needed.

In addition to the planning process, augmented reality is being developed to allow field workers to automate measurements on-site during construction. When wearing an AR unit, workers will be able to tap to automatically make measurements of the built components and compare them against the measurements specified in the building models. This allows workers to find any inconsistencies in the structures and quickly adjust them to prevent higher costs and delays down the line.

3. Project Modifications

Animated graphic showing how teams can use AR to simulate changes to a building directly on-site.

One major innovation in augmented reality is the ability for users to make changes to building models directly on the field site. Using a headset or mobile device, workers can easily display interior and exterior views of a structure and make any modifications to the virtual plans while keeping one view intact. One example is that engineers will be able to remove and relocate walls or components or modify the layout using only a few taps on their AR-enabled device.

This application will be particularly useful, as it allows for experts to troubleshoot any errors in a virtual view before applying changes to the physical structure. Since this digital data is continuously updated, it removes the guesswork from any projects change while improving the workflow and preventing any wasted materials.

4. On-Site Project Information

Animated graphic showing how users can view a building's structural information in layers.

The ability to combine all digital information and documentation with one’s physical view is a game changer. Information including the locations of pipes, walls, outlets, switches, and ventilation can be accessed directly on the site in layers that can be easily toggled on and off. Information retrieval allows field workers to effectively monitor a project against its building plan and ensure successful project completion. One example of this use is a contractor using a headset or tablet is see the locations of all the drill holes specified in the building plans allowing them to make those additions correctly and moving the project along.

In addition to a useful information database, AR can allow users to virtually see the building’s progress against its schedule, providing an even additional level of project management. As the industry continues to struggle with productivity, this application will prove to be indispensable.

5. Team Collaboration

Animated graphic showing how field workers can share notes and collaborate with team members.

Construction projects require a great deal of collaboration between multiple teams, including carpenters, electricians, plumbers, welders, designers, and managers. A successful collaboration ensures that a project is completed on time and according to the proposed budget.

However, all the workers involved in a project are not always present on a job site. Any errors that arise must wait for all the parties involved to assemble and review blueprints and make any changes. AR allows users to take notes and share video views of any errors or design issues in question and send the information to any remote teams in real time. On-site and remote team members are able to consult with each other and work with the information needed, greatly lowering the time and costs needed to make a decision among teams.

6. Safety Training

Animated graphic showing how AR can simulate equipment training.

Safety is a common challenge in the construction industry, with the construction industry. Safety programs cost a lot of time and money and aren’t always properly communication to workers. With the help of an AR headset, however, workers can be shown virtual drills, instruction, and safety scenarios. This style of direct learning not only improves their awareness of safety and provides intuitive training, but lowers training costs and downtime.

Augmented reality is also being explored to create virtual models of equipment like cranes and boom lifts. Workers will be able to use their headsets to practice operating heavy machinery in a safe, virtual setting, further enhancing their learning and development.

Is Augmented Reality for You?

While augmented reality provides instant results and can positively impact your business’ project lifecycle, there are important pros and cons to consider.

The pros and cons of using augmented reality in construction.

Benefits of AR

Finishing a project on time and within budget is a crucial part of the construction process. AR provides the tools for construction companies to plan a project from start to finish, ensuring accuracy, preventing rework, and saving building costs. This overall precision and efficiency can allow construction companies to have greater confidence in their projects, improving client relations and creating long-term ROI.

Limitations of AR

Despite its potential, augmented reality is still seeking momentum widespread use. Comfort and safety are major concerns for a user wearing AR headsets for long working hours. The equipment is often susceptible to adverse weather conditions and function best with a solid internet connection and static environment. These are all factors that aren’t always present on a job site construction on job sites.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, construction is also second on the list when it comes to the least digitized of all major industries. A new application such as AR has a curve to learning that may deter companies from investing in the technology.

What’s Next

As the technology continues to evolve, a number of applications are seeing what it can do Apps like SmartReality allow users to generate 3D models on any 2D plan, while apps like Pair 3D allow architects to drop in furnishings into their designs to determine the building’s visual impact. Blockchain incorporates AR to better manage project schedules. Canadian startup Sensopia is funding an AR app that allows users to estimate material costs on generated models and order directly on the app.

Although only large construction firms have put AR to scaled use so far, it will become more accessible in the coming years as the technology comes down in costs. Many companies are offering the technology on a per-project basis and with free trials, allowing construction managers to experiment with the new technology and apply it to their business.

From eliminating errors to offering insight, augmented reality in construction can effectively streamline the entire product lifecycle. Companies investing in this innovative technology are already enjoying the benefits, and it is a cutting-edge trend that can no longer be ignored in the industry. In 2019, the technology will continue to mature and become economically feasible, while seeing increased investment and adoption. Like forklifts and power tools, we can expect this innovative technology to become a common fixture on construction sites moving forward.

Additional Sources:
eSUB | PlanGrid | Autodesk | Construction Dive | SRI International | Wired | Geospatial World | American Journal of Engineering Research | Jasoren | Tech Trends | Capterra | AZ Big Media | PHPC Pros | GenieBelt | Cubicle Ninjas | Intellectsoft | GBKSoft

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