Augmented Reality, the future of construction?

Augmented Reality, the future of construction?

Have you ever had to go out to a construction site only to find you’ve forgotten to bring the construction drawings with you? Or perhaps the sheer volume of drawings made it impractical to run-off hardcopies at the last minute? Maybe you’ve arrived at the meeting only for someone else to thrust their drawings in front of you with a bewildering array of detail that doesn’t quite seem to tie-up? If you’ve found yourself in any of these situations, you are not alone! Keep reading to find out why Augmented Reality (AR) could be the answer to your problems.

What’s so attractive about AR?

Have you seen groups of people randomly walking together in a street or park, looking down at their phones, as if they’re looking for something? If that’s the case, chances are you’ve seen people playing the addictive game Pokemon Go. But why is this mobile game so popular? You probably guessed it right: because of the use of Augmented Reality. The app allows users to open the camera in their mobile devices and find Pokemons in the real world around them. This feature takes the gaming experience to a whole new level. Users interact with Pokemons as if they were real. Imagine you can see a Pikachu walking on the same street as you. Impressive, right?

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According to the statistics company Statista, AR is expected to acquire 1 billion users by 2020, which is by no means trivial. The main reason for is that Augmented Reality can be applied far beyond Pokemon and mobile games. Gatwick Airport recently won Mobile Innovation of the Year Award at the National Technology Awards, together with Mobile App of the Year at the Real IT awards. How did they do it? Of course, with AR. They developed a mobile app which guides passengers through the airport terminals using their smartphone camera. Just open your camera and you’ll see a virtual path overlaid on top of the reality in front of you, taking you to the boarding gate, the toilet or a coffee shop. Pretty clever, right?

Augmented Reality, eclipsed by Virtual Reality?

So, you might be asking, does this have a place within the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry? Why are we not using this technology yet? Whenever people in the industry talk about innovation, they will likely talk about Virtual Reality (VR). With VR, you can sit at your desk, put some fancy glasses on, and travel to a different place. Virtual Reality allows you to immerse yourself in another environment, without really being there. It’s about replacing your reality with a totally different one – a virtual one.

But what about Augmented Reality? Not many people seem to be talking up AR. The reason behind this is probably that VR has eclipsed AR. Whilst most individuals are focused and immersed in bringing to life a whole new reality with VR, who would bother to think about Augmented Reality with its lesser offering of a modified reality? The truth is that VR’s “little brother” may have some impressive features for us!

Why should you use Augmented Reality in your projects?

With BIM becoming mainstream across the construction industry, it’s just a matter of time before Augmented Reality chips in to disrupt the industry. Say for example that you are working on a construction site where there are underground utilities, common in most projects. Normally before you dig a hole or trench you will have to get a permit to dig. This generally involves checking C2 returns from utility companies, and sometimes GPR data and trial holes. The most common activity is to check the drawings where the designers will have included this information. But you rely on your team and site operatives to interpret the drawings correctly and communicate the hazards to all the team members effectively.

We know by experience that in many cases this process doesn’t work as it should. For example, information about a water pipe shown on drawings is not communicated to the excavator driver, and the pipe gets damaged. However, this is not the worst-case scenario. Imagine that instead of a water pipe it were a gas main or a HV cable. The consequences could be catastrophic. Now imagine that you have an Augmented Reality tool where you can open the camera on your tablet or smartphone and see the underground utilities 3D models overlaid on it. You can turn around, walk around, look up or down, and you will see what is supposed to be down there. This is basically what the guys from the company AugView have developed. Check out their app video below, you’ll be surprised!

The possibilities with AR are limitless

In fact, why limit this technology to underground assets when you could overlay all of your BIM models onto the camera and walk around your construction site. At a glance, you’ll see where your proposed assets are going to be built, and how they interact or clash with existing elements. You could see that a proposed lighting column is clashing with an existing manhole. Or that a proposed bridge pier foundation is clashing with a gas main. With AR, you won’t need to bring drawings with you on site anymore. Of course, critically, the data that you see on screen is only as good as the quality of the information input in the first place, so there is always a need to have the appropriate processes and procedures in place to ensure the quality displayed is accurate and adequate.

What other activities do you think you might use Augmented Reality for in your projects? Leave us a comment below, and stay tuned to our blog for more posts on innovative technologies!

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