Photography is a steadfast medium for the factual communication of ideas. Aerial photography, if done right, can be one of
These technologies may seem like they are out of a science fiction flick, but they are already here. And, they offer so many benefits to the construction process, from beginning to end. Virtual reality is already being used to guide construction workers and make their workplace safer, but everyone involved in the construction process has something to benefit from this technology.
Whether you’re using virtual or augmented reality you’ll be wearing a headset. For augmented reality you can see what’s in front of you, plus the glasses augment reality to project something else onto your surroundings, a mixed reality. For example, you could be looking at an existing building, and then see the projected extension to the building through Microsoft’s HoloLens, right where it will actually be built, completely to scale.
Virtual reality differs from this because you can’t see anything in front of you. Instead, everything you see is an illusion generated into a headset fully enveloping your sight. Right now, this technology is most popular in video games, where game systems like the oculus rift transports the player, visually, into the game world. The construction industry could make use of this technology by transporting clients into full virtual models of their building.
Often when these models are being created, photography has a role to play. Images are taken of the building, whether aerial or ground based and then a computer uses them to build the augmented or virtual scene. As progress is made on the building, photos can be taken again, to give executives or clients the ability to virtually tour the construction site and check up on construction progress. This is safer for the client, and could also save money and time for the executive, who no longer need to fly over to the building.
Though, virtual and augmented reality do have a role to play before ground is even broken. Architects are already using this technology to prototype their buildings. It allows them to produce that prototype much faster than traditional means, and their resulting prototype is much easier for the non-architect to understand. There are already a handful of virtual reality headsets for architects to choose from.
Bland two dimensional floor plans are a huge problem in housing construction especially. Often the prospective homeowner has never dealt with blueprints before, and has a hard time visualizing exactly what their home will look like. With virtual models, that simply is no longer a problem. The client can step inside their prospective home, as if it were already built, and get a real feeling for what it would be like to live there. Sales departments everywhere will find this technology absolutely indispensable once they’ve used it. Indeed, adopting the technology early will help attract millennial clients.
Larger projects can benefit from the same visualization. You could see exactly how your building will look on the skyline of the city. Complicated architectural designs could be visualized in a way never thought possible. Owners may be willing to take larger architectural risks when they can see exactly what the building will look like and easily make adjustments Creating a digital model like this is also much cheaper than using actual materials.
Later, this guide can be used by construction workers to actually visualize their next steps in the construction process. Using augmented technology they could see what has already been done on the building, and what should be added. The headset could be set to show the worker what they need to complete for the day, helping them stay focused and thorough. The workers could also use the headset to see the completed building, motivating them and giving them a sense of what their hard work is going to result in.
One potential problem that needs to be overcome is adjusting virtual reality technology to the fluctuating space of a construction site. How accurate can these three dimensional models truly be for workers? Will we ever get to a point where they can rely only on whether the technology says the beams, for example, are properly placed, without checking for themselves with a blueprint? Huge developments are being made in the accuracy of the technology, but it may not be as completely reliable as we want it to be.
There are also safety issues for construction workers who wear the headset. What if the augmented reality blocks their vision of a safety hazard? On the other hand, there could be many safety benefits from this technology as well. It could be programmed to identify safety risks. For example, it could check on all of the equipment in a worker’s field of vision, alerting him or her if something has been stored improperly or is about to malfunction.
Much of the safety technology that has been put into our vehicles could be used in conjunction with virtual reality on our construction sites. Imagine the headset alerting the operator of a large machine that a worker is in their blind spot, just like rear-view cameras can in vehicles. The headset could survey the worker’s harness, sending out a warning if he or she forgot to clip it on correctly, kind of like seat-belt monitors do now.
Potentially, the technology could go even further. Older experts could supervise and guide younger employees right through their headsets. The headset could keep track of where each worker is, in case they need to be rescued or evacuated. It could also keep track of whether employees are following safety standards. There are privacy concerns about this, but some argue the benefits to worker safety will outweigh privacy concerns. Carol Hagen, the president of Hagen Business Systems and technology consultant for the AEC industry, put the point succinctly, “Most workers have to wear safety glasses anyway, why not give them super powers?”
Carol Hagen envisions that one day these technologies will become indispensable. Virtual and augmented reality gives select companies a competitive edge right now, but one day it will save all adopting companies on insurance premiums, and make the construction site much safer. Architects will be able to better communicate their vision, which will increase both sales and client confidence. One day, virtual reality could even meet the world of social media marketing, giving online visitors virtual tours.