Construction Industry has always been one of the least digitalized industries in the world. This is mainly because it is very much dependent on human hands work. It has been hard to successfully integrate technology into the work done this way.
The 21st century brought a real revolution of technological progress, which led to changes in AEC industry.
The construction industry is currently experiencing rapid technological development and augmented reality is part of it.
AR (Augmented Reality) is used at every stage of the construction process. What is it? I’ll explain it below.
1. What is augmented reality?
Let me first explain the difference between several types of computer-generated reality. All of the above reality types are included in one general term called “Extended Reality” (XR).
XR is a fairly new term, referring to all real and virtual environments and human-machine interactions generated by computer technology and various mobile devices. The term Extended Reality includes:
- AR – Augmented Reality
- VR – Virtual Reality
- MR – Mixed Reality
2. AR – Augmented Reality
Augmented reality allows to overlay a digital image on the real world with a tablet or smartphone. In other words, AR enriches the environment with additional visualizations. AR is widely used in the commercial sector to add a single virtual piece of information to reality. Such information is associated with a specific point, a so-called “marker”. Such markers inform the devices that a virtual item belongs to the particular location. The virtual object will always be displayed on the top of the marker. As a result, you can walk around and view it from different angles. The above technique often places 3D models in the real world. The object enhancing the reality can be shown as a smaller scaled 3D model or in actual size.
We extend the real world through the screen of a smartphone or tablet. Its camera will be used to capture and show a real preview of reality with added virtual objects. AR always refers to a real world view with virtually added information, but the two worlds are not semantically connected to each other – your device does not “understand” the environment.
We will discuss virtual and mixed reality in future articles.
3. Augmented reality in construction
Therefore, what are the applications of AR in the construction industry?
Construction is slowly taking over what modern technology has to offer. Whether it’s small innovations (such as project management tools that have helped managers immensely) or larger devices (such as robots and automated vehicles that have increased productivity). today’s technology has changed the industry for the better. Even if augmented reality is still in its early stages, it has already proved to be an extremely beneficial construction tool. Below I present examples of its applications.
AR technology, Building Information Modeling (BIM) and advanced 3D modeling software, introduced a lot of innovation in the design and planning process.
For example, the user can see the building in its real surroundings, in real scale, before it is built. It allows users to take virtual walks around buildings still under construction and see if there are any clashes or make changes without causing problems and delays.
This type of technology gives managers, contractors, and engineers the ability to visualize the effects of any changes in real-time. In turn, it will help identify errors and respond to them immediately, reducing project risk.
The operation of many heavy machines and complex tools can be complicated, yet mistakes can be fatal. It is essential to provide training to teach employees to operate each piece of equipment. However, it usually takes many hours.
AR can provide direct instructions displayed on a tablet or smartphone screen. Consequently, downtime is reduced, instructions are more intuitive, and training costs are lower. Also, employees are trained in a safe environment that enables heavy machinery operation training without the risk of injury.
The inspection process at the construction site required several people, was performed manually on printed drawings, and had a large margin of error. It often had to be repeated, making the process time-consuming. But with AR, inspectors can accurately compare the BIM model with the actual construction. AR allows inspectors to take photos, make notes on potential problems, and then integrate them into the model,
It helps find problems, clashes, and inconsistencies with the documentation.
AR enables us to provide project information into the physical world. For instance, the location of pipes, outlets, switches, and so on can be directly accessed and overlaid on the construction site. The method of information retrieval helps in monitoring and comparing the project with the actual construction. AR also provides visual feedback on the progress of the construction compared to the schedule. Thus, it is possible to check possible delays in the schedule and implement necessary corrections on the spot
It is possible to damage existing utilities when laying cables or pipes underground or even cause an explosion by damaging gas lines during underground construction work. AR reduces the risk by providing all the relevant information before work begins, revealing the course and depth of utilities before construction begins, and avoiding the risks associated with damage to existing utilities.
Use to visualize reinforcement on site. AR technology enables to visualize the steps of the reinforcement placement directly at the place of construction without the need to use drawings. It minimizes errors caused by drawings’ misinterpretation. It also enables the real-time accuracy assessment of the structure and comparison with the digital model
4. Advantages of the AR in the construction
At the construction phase, AR supports workers on site in identifying any clashes quickly and avoiding rework. Thus, construction productivity increases.
The fact that collisions can be detected instantly and any notes or comments are integrated into the model mean that communication delays can be minimized and project management processes improved.
5. Disadvantages of the AR in construction
While safety is an asset improved by AR, it also has some disadvantages. Workers using AR technology may be too distracted staring at a tablet or smartphone screen to realize where they stand. For example, they may not see a hole in the floor or notice a crane hook in front of them.
To fully benefit from AR, it is necessary to have a stable internet connection. A remote location usually has no proper internet connection. Although, particular AR applications can still work even offline. However, real-time collaboration is a must to take full advantage of the abovementioned technology.
In the past, paper drawings were the basis of construction projects and were crucial in both the planning and design phases. Modern technology has developed ways by which construction enters a new generation.
Designers and architects use 3D models with a high degree of detail, thanks to which it is possible to efficiently collaborate between industries. The use of augmented, virtual and mixed reality is the next step in the digital revolution in construction.
From paper to the screen of the monitor, from flat drawings to 3D models, from 3D models on the monitor screen to models visible in the real world around us.