Augmented Reality: Pending Revolution Already Changing Construction


By Larry Stewart

Augmented and virtual reality are already changing the way contractors sell and manage projects even though much of the headset hardware capable of extending the technology to project sites is months away from retail stores.

The augmented-reality (AR) industry says businesses that depend heavily on field service could save, collectively, as much as $1 billion every year with Google-Glass-like abilities.

The advent of wearable computers that can take augmented and virtual reality mobile may not be quite as momentous as the first PCs or the internet, but it does combine those two breakthroughs in a way that opens the door to communicating with holograms (as in, “Help us Obi Wan. You’re our only hope”). Being able to generate and manipulate three-dimensional building information models (BIM) is already proving immensely valuable in architects’ studios and boardrooms, regulatory agencies and project sites.

Enough sales pitch. Why now?

Building information modeling is taking over design, engineering, planning, quality control and project delivery with its ability to illustrate construction projects in 3D. Few people are good at visualizing the result of 2D plans in 3D. Building information models show them, and the technology is helping slash construction rework costs, conservatively estimated at $15 billion per year in industrial construction.

“In a recent survey we conducted of over 2,000 construction professionals, we found that 65% of the companies are using building information modeling (BIM) software,” writes James Benham, CEO of construction-technology firm JBKnowledge Inc., in a recent blog post. “I’m highlighting this statistic because it reveals the biggest opportunity for wearables [computers] in the construction industry. What better way to use interactive, hands-free technology than to experience three-dimensional structures before, during and after they are being built? BIM allows for that on a flat screen, while wearables could go 10 steps past current BIM solutions by putting the user inside the model.”

Benham illustrates the power of BIM with a story, recalling a high-profile occasion when poor human visualization ate a contractor’s profits on a Las Vegas mega casino.

In one vast concrete pour, the contractor formed the building’s foundation and swimming complex, then realized the pool cut between the materials staging area and the building foundation. The contractor spent millions building a temporary bridge over the pool to keep materials flowing to the tower.

“The GC paid a huge price because they didn’t simulate the schedule in four dimensions, they only looked at the schedule chart,” says Benham.

Building information modeling turbocharges people’s powers of visualization by adding a fourth dimension – time – to its illustrations. Scrolling through a BIM file along the timeline, you can watch how the project was intended to be built virtually, and stop to see what it is supposed to look like at any point in the process.

Augmented reality is a computer display technique that aligns data with what the AR user is looking at using the wearable device’s internet connection, built-in cameras, GPS and accelerometer. Augmented-reality glasses line up the images in a project’s files with their camera’s field of view and project it onto…click here to continue reading.


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