Augmented and Virtual Reality in AEC – New opportunities and use cases

The Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry is one of the largest industries in the United States, with expenditure reaching over $1.162 trillion each year. Yet, over 98% of construction projects incur cost overruns and delays due to the lack of adequate visualization capability to recognize design conflicts, lack of communication among different construction parties, and lack of support for advanced communication technologies.

To address these deficiencies and decrease the number of unforeseen issues and, therefore, rework in construction projects, the AEC industry heavily utilized the Building Information Modeling (BIM) over the past decade to generate true digital representation or 3D models of buildings and their characteristics.

BIM was used for different functions such as improving communication, decision making enhancement, and visualization, to accelerate information integration from design to construction. This has revolutionized the way designers, engineers, and managers think about the buildings and enable them to predict and solve problems that are likely to occur during the life-cycle of a building.

However, BIM still has some inherent limitations. For example, BIM does not provide real-time on-site communication and a rich visualization for cluttered construction sites. The existing software packages also provide limited user experience, lacking interactive visualization.

Thankfully, the use of new technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) can address all major inherent deficiencies of BIM and open a new area for enhancement in AEC. Apart from real-time on-site communication, AR/VR can improve communication among stakeholders and provide better visualization for engineers, designers, and other stakeholders, enabling a one-to-one fully immersive experience.

The AEC industry has many other potential use cases for utilizing AR/VR technologies, including personalized safety training, safety management, progress tracking, labor management, defects management, energy savings, understanding end-users (occupants) preferences, and so on.

Compared to traditional approaches, AR/VR technologies achieve more efficient safety training with better results because researchers can develop an online VR framework that enables workers to perform role-playing, social interaction, and dialogic learning, to provide better safety and health education for the workers.

The training sessions can simulate construction accidents in the VR environment and demonstrate accident causation and the importance of proper risk perception and thorough hazard recognition. This allows workers to identify more hazards, perceive them with a higher level of risk, and use effective management strategies to control the hazards with a high degree of realism, which improves training outcomes.

As mentioned, VR technology can create real-time VR models that can give clear cost estimation and change the floors and walls materials, and other parts. Besides, VR can improve construction safety and improve workers’ hazard recognition skills. Safety experts can train workers with different motion tracking systems, HMD, and joysticks as input methods and achieve much better results than on-site safety training. These systems provide a significant positive learning experience.

The VR-based interactive environment enables a user to interact with triggered problems on a construction site and make decisions. They can see how their decisions will affect project cost and schedule. The technology simplifies the heavy-lift planning, improves the lift crew’s performance on the construction site, and reduce human error. Moreover, connecting several VR headsets enables a group meeting to improve communication among stakeholders in a virtual space.

Although AR/VR technologies are very effective, the AEC industry has been very slow in adopting these technologies. The slow adaptation of AR/VR technologies is partly due to the lack of budget, lack of understanding of the technologies, and the lack of feasibility studies examining the actual cost of implementation versus an increase in profit.

Another major limitation of the adoption of AR and VR in construction is the perception that they are immature technologies to be used for construction and engineering applications that demand higher levels of accuracy, consistency, and efficacy. Battery limitations (the battery of the AR 409 headset usually lasts only 30 minutes), narrow fields of view, low tracking accuracy, low resolutions, uncomfortable HMDs are commonly cited factors that disincentives the use of AR and VR technologies in real-life projects.

Some of the other key challenges in adapting AR/VR in the AEC industry are as follows:

  • Expensive tools
  • Slow adaptation due to old routines, habits, and lack of understanding of needs and requirements
  • No demand for the use of AR/VR from the management.
  • Limited use of AR/VR in some parts of the projects
  • Unknown benefits of AR/VR
  • Lack of high-level requirements and capabilities for the engineering and construction sectors.

Let’s sum up. Even though AR and VR technologies seem to be a vital tool in the construction industry, there are multiple drawbacks and limitations in implementing the technologies in the construction industry. Those drawbacks and limitations are quickly broken by the upcoming generations and the sustained and continual advancement in technology worldwide.

The technologies are definitely moving from infancy to mainstream, and there is a significant increase in AR/VR utilization in the AEC industry over the past years. Assuming that AR and VR technologies will improve with safety, quality, visualization, workforce management, and time management, it’s quite sure that these technologies will play more important roles in construction for future years.

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