Augmented reality (AR) is an emerging technology that could have a significant impact on the AEC industry in the coming years. Augmented reality is the enhancement of real-world environments by overlaying virtual data, images, etc. onto a physical space. If you’ve ever watched a football game on TV you’ve experienced augmented reality. The lines you see marking the line of scrimmage and first-down marker are examples of augmented reality.
Vision-based augmented reality using markers such as quick response (QR) codes, architectural drawings and images combined with the camera, display, processors and internet capability of smartphones and tablets will dominate the early application uses of AR in construction. As wearable technology, think Google Glass, becomes more common look for it to become more prevalent as it offers hands-free use. Also, as GPS technology continues to make advancements and become more accurate it could eliminate the need for markers or other location devices like radio frequency identification (RFID).
While applications for the use of augmented reality in construction are still being developed and mainstream adoption of its use is still in the early stages, it has been proven to be a useful tool in the industry. Augmented reality was used extensively in the construction of Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center. McCarthy Building Companies used QR codes as markers on doorjambs and major building systems along with laser scanning allowing users to access up-to-date 3D Building Information Modeling (BIM) models along with other project information such as change orders.
Augmented reality was also used on the renovation of The Institute for Systems Biology headquarters completed back in 2011. BNBuilders used Perkins+Will’s BIM models and markers throughout the building to provide full-scale perspectives of design elements and building components before they were built or installed.
Because augmented reality’s use in the construction industry is its infancy and the full scope of its capabilities and applications are still being developed, tested and implemented. Instead of focusing on all the possible ways augmented reality could be utilized we would take a look at some of the benefits the AEC industry will reap as the technology emerges.
Real-Time Visualization Of Projects
Imagine an architect, contractor or owner being able to walk onto a project site, hold up a smartphone or tablet with the camera facing the location of the proposed building and being able to see a full-scale model of the building on the display well before any work begins. This type of real-time visualization will allow architects to provide owners and contractors greater insight into the details and design of a project than is currently available with 2D drawings, scale models and BIM.
Better Collaboration & Communication
Good collaboration and communication are key to any successful construction project. With augmented reality, a project manager or contractor could walk through a construction site and easily view an overlay of a BIM model on top of as-built construction and compare the two while also accessing up-to-date change orders or other project documentation. The project manager could instantly take pictures or video record the augmented reality walkthrough and send it back to the design team for clarification as issues arise.
Safety is always a top priority on every construction project. Whether it’s allowing for a more detailed safety plan to be developed or providing training on heavy equipment using actual equipment on real sites with augmented hazards, AR has the potential to greatly improve safety on the construction site. Imagine being able to walk to a specific area of construction and having a safety checklist or a recap of that morning’s safety meeting specific to the task at hand pop up on a display along with a 3D BIM model of the work.
Greater Implementation Of Building Information Modeling (BIM)
BIM is already widely used by the AEC community with over 70 percent of companies in North America currently using it in some way. Augmented reality has the potential to push BIM to 100 percent adoption throughout the construction industry. With AR having to look down at a small scale BIM model and then back up at current construction and then back down at the model to check something will be completely eliminated. You will be able to look at the built environment with the BIM model overlaid on top without ever having to look away. Augmented reality will do for BIM what BIM did for CAD and 2D architectural drawing.
Projects Delivered On Time & Within Budget
The usage of BIM has already been proven to decrease project delivery time and keep projects under budget. Integration of AR with BIM will make doing this even easier. With AR you could walk through a full-scale BIM model to create the most efficient construction schedule possible and develop a logistics plan for the site for staging areas, material and supply deliveries, and equipment storage. How much time could be saved if you were able to point your tablet or smartphone at your remaining building materials for a project and while it processes how much is left it will cross reference what’s been built compared with what is left and calculate how much more material is needed and then display the closest distributors, price and availability with the option to instantly order it and have it delivered that day? I’m not sure such an application exists but it’s only a matter of time until someone figures out how to make it happen.
The immense potential for the use of augmented reality in the construction industry is just beginning. New applications and uses are being developed all the time due to all the possible ways it might be used. Augmented reality integration in the construction industry is definitely on the rise and is definitely emerging technology to keep a close eye on.
If you haven’t had any experience with augmented reality I highly recommend checking out the SmartReality Beta App by JB Knowledge Technologies, Inc. The app is available on iOS and Android mobile devices and is free to download once you register. The app is currently in the beta testing stage but the functionality of what’s available is pretty impressive. I’ve been playing around with it for the past couple of days and everyone I’ve shown it to has been impressed. Once you register they will send you targets to print out to test out the app. Below are some images of the target plans showing the plans as they were printed and then with the BIM model overlay using the app. The app also allows you to zoom in on the BIM model, take photos, record video and view the time progression of a construction model with 4D BIM which is the 3D BIM model with time (schedule) added.