Augmented reality – what are the benefits?

Construction is among the least digitised industries according to research conducted by global management consultants, McKinsey & Company. But could the implementation of innovative technologies be the way forward for construction? 

As McKinsey & Company point out in their report, the slow pace of digitisation in construction is mostly due to technical challenges specific to the industry: “Rolling out solutions across construction sites for multiple sectors that are geographically dispersed – compare an oil pipeline, say, with an airport – is no easy task.

“And given the varying sophistication levels of smaller construction firms that often function as subcontractors, building new capabilities at scale is another challenge.”

As they suggest, these are not challenges that will get easier to solve: “These are deep issues that require new ways of thinking and working.”

Enter AR technology

Not to be confused with virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) enhances your view of your real-world environment. It ‘augments’ your surrounding by incorporating elements performed in real time as sound, video, graphics, etc.

VR, on the other hand, replaces your real world with that of a simulated one. Indeed, VR literally means ‘near-reality’, as you usually can’t see anything around you while engaging with this technology. Of course, this has opened many doors in the world of gaming, as VR headsets give you the freedom to connect mind and body, allowing a fuller, more embodied experience.

Coupled with 360° capabilities, VR offers exciting, more immersive possibilities for the gaming community.

With the likes of AR, however, it is more about bringing out the components of the digital world into a person’s perceived ‘real world’. There are several reasons why the implementation of this technology could be positive for the construction industry.

Creative and cost-effective capacities

First of all, AR’s ability to create an immersive environment that augments with our own real world surroundings gives contractors the ability to offer their clients a vision of their design in reality, even before work has been initiated.

Usually, architects and contractors are reliant on blue prints and other 2D renderings of their plans.

With the help of AR, however, this could be a thing of the past. Applications for smartphones have been developed which project 2D designs and plans as 3D models. Such visualisation allows contractors and their clients to experience a new level of interaction with a structure that doesn’t even exist yet. Expansions in the market for digital AR tools also include smart helmets designed specifically for use in industrial settings.

Such interventions could not only just smooth over collaborations between contractor, planners and clients, but also carry cost saving benefits.

The planning stages in construction can be particularly volatile to hurdles with the need to assure potential investors that their money is being spent wisely. With AR, for example, it is easier to help investors understand how a particular structure fits amidst its real world surroundings and how it can be an asset, which could work towards assuring them that they are making a sound investment.

Further, on a more practical level, these innovations mean that problems can be visualised and ironed out in real-time. Potential faults in design may be easier to identify during the preliminary stages; with virtual imagery rendered onto real space gives a new way of seeing and interacting with design – maybe leading to more creative resolutions to potential problems.

Benefits for other sectors

Of course, in certain sectors AR is already widely in use as part of a variety of applications.

Smartphone showing the Pokémon Go app in action.
Above: the Pokémon Go app uses augmented reality and GPS technology to place Pokémon in your own real-world location.

The Dulux Visualizer application, for example, helps you to pick a colour from anywhere, using augmented reality technology to enable you to see the colours come to life in your own home using your smartphone.

Similarly, the IKEA Place app from the Swedish flatpack-furniture company, allows customers to flick through their catalogue and visualise assembled products anywhere in their home.

Elsewhere in the entertainment and leisure sector, Pokémon Go uses augmented reality so that you can capture, train and battle Pokémon as they appear as part of your real-world location.

Whether there is a risk that using augmented reality will cause discrepancies between what is expected and what is delivered, in industries like retail and construction, is something that should be continually addressed and revised.

As software becomes more photorealistic and sophisticated, however, the better the accuracy in whatever capacity it is used.

Real time visualisation

While augmented and virtual realities can be useful in the planning stages, time-lapse photography and site monitoring is an excellent tool to capture construction projects.

Rendering the work of contractors in fully post-produced edits, time-lapse is another example of how this industry benefits from digital technologies.

Whereas AR has a place and purpose in showing what may take place, or what may be possible, live site monitoring through Ultra HD images shows actual, real time progress. This has similar benefits to that of augmented reality, in that again it is a perfect tool for informing key parties involved in the project.

And thus embracing a combination of technologies – from AR and time-lapse to drones and video – may be the best way for the construction sector to become a much more digitised industry.

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