AR in the Construction Industry

The Role of Augmented Reality in the Construction Industry

The construction industry is the oldest in the world, with innovations built into its core. The last century has seen exponential advancement in the tools we use for the development of our built environment. Over the last decade, numerous technologies have been introduced into the industry, including but not limited to, Building Information Modelling (BIM), 3D printers, Drones, and Virtual Reality (VR). One technology that has created a lot of buzz due to its potential is Augmented Reality (AR). The scope for AR to become an invaluable tool in the architectural, engineering, and construction industry is immense and in constant development. 

Augmented Reality uses an advanced camera and sensor technology to create an enhanced version of the real world by adding digital visual elements, sound, or other sensory stimuli and presenting it in real-time. Although this technology has long been popular in the gaming industry, it is still comparatively new in the construction industry. But AR has been creating waves in the industry due to the wide range of applications it provides throughout a project’s lifecycle

What is Augmented Reality?

Virtual Reality (VR) is frequently confused with Augmented Reality (AR). Despite their similarities, AR and VR are two very distinct interactive technologies. VR has been the more famous growing trend in several industries in recent years, but it soon feels outdated compared to AR’s applications and benefits. Unlike VR, which is solely a digital experience, AR merges the real and the virtual into a single immersive environment. AR uses a mobile smartphone or an AR headset to visualize 3D images onto a person’s physical environment as they walk through a space.

Using GPS and cameras, the AR equipment can provide users with geospatial information, presenting pertinent information as the user moves around the construction site. Schedules, operational information, and drawings are all easily accessible, allowing users to make decisions on the spot while on site.

Not only does AR have the ability to transform how stakeholders view specific activities, but more importantly, it also has the capacity to change how professionals carry out jobs, potentially saving a lot of time, energy, and money.

How is Augmented Reality used in construction? 

Augmented reality is being utilized in the construction industry to enhance efficiency, improve safety in construction sites, optimize teamwork & collaboration and manage time, money & resources thanks to its ability to deliver real-time information.

Here are some benefits of Augmented Reality in construction:

Project Planning & Presentation

In construction, the role of AR begins in the planning stage. AR enables several details and elements to be layered onto a building plan to provide stakeholders with an in-depth understanding of the project. Architects and construction firms can exhibit working models to their clients by combining augmented reality with BIM. Clients are provided with a clear picture of what a building will look like through 2D models and virtual tours. Hence, clients can make decisions based on the current plan and allow the designers and engineers to make modifications before construction begins.

AR Sketchwalk, AR tool that is part of the designing app Morpholio, can assist architects to bridge the gap between their design and reality. The tool enables designers to use AR to give clients and themselves a more accurate sense of the design and how it fits within the context of a particular area.

Real-Time Project Information

One of the significant advantages of employing AR technology in construction is combining all digital information and documentation of a project with its physical location. This technology can help access and visualize data such as the location, style, and type of additions to the building shell, ranging from architectural elements like windows and doors to MEP elements like ducts and pipes. Engineers on-site can use this information retrieval technology and visualize the details right in front of them using an AR headset or tablet. This helps them properly monitor the project’s progress on-site, compared to the building design, and ensure that all is in order.

The physical features of a building, such as its height, width, and volume, can also be measured using augmented reality technology. AR headset Microsoft’s Hololens, for example, can measure the physical dimensions of a space, such as depth, height, and width. These data can be integrated back into the 3D models allowing for more accuracy in visualization and construction measurements. Accurate construction measurements will also ensure project time efficiency and exact requirements for manpower and materials. 

Team Collaboration

Construction is a highly collaborative sector, and effective teamwork between all the different disciplines is imperative to ensure that a project is finished on schedule and under budget. However, not all team members working on a project may be on-site at all times. Fixing issues must be postponed until all parties involved have assembled and reviewed plans and made any necessary modifications.

Augmented Reality allows remote workers to inspect the job site as if they were there in person. AR allows for real-time problem solving and error correction without the need for a specific team member to be physically present at the building location. Workers can also use augmented reality to capture notes, images, or videos of problems, which distant teams can view and comment on. AR allows streamlining of collaboration between on-site and remote team members who can consult with one another in remote environments, thereby drastically reducing the time and money it takes for teams to solve issues on site. 

The Wild is a software platform that combines AR and VR that allows such collaboration between the team members.  The Wild supports Revit and BIM 360 and is compatible with desktop, mobile phones or tablets, and VR headsets. It allows different teams to get into a virtual workspace that allows design reviews, creation of markups, and effective communication that enables users to work on projects remotely. 

                                    (Picture courtesy: LaptrinhX)

Modifying Projects

In addition to visualizing the building and its elements on a site, one of the major innovations brought about by the application of AR in construction is the ability to make changes to building models directly on-site readily. Using an AR headset or AR-enabled mobile device with a digital overlay of a project, engineers can make virtual modifications to the project, such as changing the layout of walls or other critical systems. This will allow them to understand how those modifications will be integrated into the building and how they might affect the rest of the structure while making no change to the actual physical structure and delaying the project. The technology can also reveal incompatibilities or situations where a remedy will result in a future problem.

Approved changes are updated in real-time, reducing the risk of workers following obsolete plans. Using AR this way can help prevent expensive mistakes and reduce the likelihood of extensive rework once the project is up and running.

Safety Training

In construction, safety is of utmost importance. For their own safety and the safety of other workers and pedestrians, all workers must undergo extensive training before engaging in activities on site such as operating using heavy machinery, mounting multi-story scaffolds, or handling hazardous materials. Safety is paramount in construction. But safety training is expensive, time-intensive, and even dangerous if an inexperienced person is at the controls.

Workers can be offered virtual drills, guidance, and safety scenarios using AR technologies such as AR headsets to tackle this problem. In this way, the workers can be trained in a safe environment where nobody gets hurt. For example, before having to operate on the actual construction site, workers can use AR headsets like Microsoft Hololens to practice operating complex heavy machinery in a safe, virtual environment. Similarly, AR can be used to train workers on how to handle hazardous materials or scenarios without exposing the workers to the actual thing. This training method enhances their safety awareness by delivering clear instruction and reducing downtime training expenses and delays.

Disdvantages of Augmented Reality in Construction

As discussed in detail above, AR has several applications throughout the life cycle of a construction project, from the planning stage to the construction completion stage that ensures accuracy, avoids rework, lowers construction costs, and ensures completion of the project on time. Construction firms will have more confidence in their projects as a result of this overall efficiency and accuracy, which can strengthen client relations and provide long-term ROI. Despite all these major advantages, the level of adoption of AR in construction is currently very low. Why would that be?

The assumption that AR is an immature technology that cannot be adequately utilized in practice is the biggest impediment to their acceptance in the construction industry. Extremely high degrees of accuracy, consistency, and efficacy are required in construction and engineering applications. Current AR devices cannot fully handle the extremely complex 3D information models used in construction. However, using the existing devices for construction applications is the best and most effective way to determine which capabilities need to be worked on to enhance the application of this technology in the construction and engineering sector (Davila et al., 2020). 

Construction firms are unfamiliar with AR hardware and software, making it difficult to get guidance on procurement strategies and compare the different systems. Additionally, because the financial implications and possible profits are not readily available, it is difficult for companies to invest in the technology.  A novel application, such as augmented reality, also has a learning curve that may dissuade companies from investing in it (Davila et al., 2020).

Another major reason for their limited adoption is the hesitance of the AEC industry to embrace digitalization. Construction ranks second among all major industries in terms of digitization, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. 

For a user wearing AR headsets for lengthy periods, comfort and safety are also significant concerns. The equipment is frequently exposed to inclement weather and performs best in a stable environment with a strong internet connection. These are all variables that aren’t usually available on construction sites which would pose an issue to the use of AR devices.

The willingness of the construction industry to undergo a digital transformation and the maturation of AR technology itself will ultimately drive greater adoption of AR in the industry.

Future of Augmented Reality in Construction 

Although we have not yet seen a large-scale implementation of the AR technology in the construction field, considering all the advantages the implementation of AR technology offers throughout the lifecycle of a project, it has the potential to become an indispensable part of the construction industry in the near future especially considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the past two years that has pushed construction firms to operate remotely and implement digital solutions.

AR companies are finding ways to improve every day continually. Apps are becoming faster and more intuitive, and AR technology is being integrated into construction software. As the technology continues to mature and become economically feasible, the investment and implementation of AR technology in the construction industry will most definitely see immense growth in the years to come.

The Economist has rated the construction industry as the least efficient industry, and the fact that this industry has yet to completely adapt to the digital world only cements this rating. Technology has jumped far into the future in comparison to the design and construction sustainability practices used on most projects today. This is where Alpin Innovation Labs comes in. We want to positively impact the industry both locally and also on a larger scale. Putting sustainability of design and construction, and operation efficiency at the height of our focus. If you are interested in exploring how AR can help you in your projects, reach out!