Virtual and augmented reality systems are a great way for construction firms to fight against inefficiency and low-profit margins that sometimes cause big problems. While it might seem that virtual reality is just an expensive toy, the truth is that this technology can help firms communicate with their clients more effectively, manage expectations, achieve faster project approval and ultimately improve outcomes for all parties, including at the bottom line. Minneapolis-based construction firm Mortensen can be considered an “early adopter” of VR technology in the construction industry – they have already employed 60 people in a reality capture division that uses VR to inform and engage clients and improve project outcomes. This article talks about some of the uses and benefits of virtual reality in construction and makes a case for more firms to start using VR in the future.
Bridging the Vision Gap
Who are the key stakeholders in a construction project and how do they communicate their needs to each other? The client understands what specifications they require, but they may not be an expert in architecture. As a result, the client counts on the construction firm’s architect to blueprint and illustrate what the end result will be. Local governments also play a role in building legislation and governance – how can a firm effectively communicate what the environmental or societal impact of a project will be? Virtual reality design gives every stakeholder the opportunity to experience the finished building completely before ground is broken, bridging the gap in vision between the construction firm’s architect, the needs of the client, and the requirements of other stakeholders.
Agile Construction Development through VR Modeling
The number one application of virtual reality in construction is in generating an immersive 3D model of a completed building before ever laying a brick. Using essentially video game technology, early adopter McCarthy Building Companies is able to show a client what a specific room or even an entire building will look like from the inside and outside before breaking ground. As a result, the client can request any changes that they want in advance, avoiding the time waste and costliness that can result from change requests in the middle of the project. For those familiar with “agile” software development, this is similar to the prototyping process wherein the client approves and gives feedback on a number of prototypes before the final product is developed. The result is improved satisfaction with the end result.
Successful Applications of Virtual and Augmented Reality
Many construction firms are already using virtual and augmented reality in construction modeling to save time and make more money on their projects. Despite being over 150 years old, McCarthy Building Companies, mentioned above, is a leader in this technology. The firm uses drones to scan an area with lasers, then upload it into a VR headset and create a virtual walk-through. The firm has also successfully modeled client projects, accepting feedback on them before construction starts to enhance end-user outcomes and viability.
For example, a VR model of a hospital construction project was used to help ensure that hallways were wide enough for a stretchered patient to be moved through the building quickly, and that fixtures in certain rooms were positioned optimally to meet the needs of healthcare workers. This process ensured great functionality and satisfaction with the end result.
Areas for VR Innovation in Construction
There are numerous other construction applications of virtual reality that have been suggested by thought-leaders in the field, with real promise for the future. Augmented reality building could be used to inform workers in real time on how they should proceed – workers wearing a VR headset could still be aware of their surroundings while receiving information on what to do next through a VR system.
Residential sales is another great area of opportunity for virtual reality going forward. Prospective homebuyers would be able to tour and customize a home before its purchase or even its construction, including options like layout and optional features, and even painting and furniture.
There is also an opportunity to use virtual reality for professional training, helping workers learn about potential risks on the job site in a virtual reality setting or training them on heavy equipment operation in a virtual environment without deploying or risking any material assets.
The opportunity for a virtual reality construction industry to emerge and thrive with the technology available is here right now. With companies like Mortenson already reporting savings in the millions of dollars though successful applications of VR, more and more companies will likely become adopters of this technology in the future. When will your business start enhancing its operations with virtual reality?