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Okay, we admit it. We love to talk about the future of construction technology and all the amazing things that may happen in the next few years. But you’ve got stuff to do now. You’re making sure today’s work gets done right so you can stay on track and make your margins tomorrow.
You don’t have time for daydreaming.
That’s why we decided to sort through the exciting world of emerging construction technology and create a list of ways that Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) technologies are saving real money for real construction companies today.
These technologies are benefitting construction firms today by:
An article describes a recent situation where VR saved millions of euro on a campus-sized construction project. A Skycatch drone was providing a real-time VR simulation of the project, feeding an up-to-date view of conditions on the ground directly to the management team in the trailer. When they compared this view to the plan by overlaying plan data, they discovered an eight-inch misalignment between where ground was broken for the foundation, and where the plan called for it to be laid.
This discovery saved the project millions of euro in rework by preventing the 400,000 euro concrete slab being poured in the wrong place, and potential subsequent work being placed on the misaligned foundation.
Some of the same technologies that reduce rework, also improve safety. The Daqri helmet, for instance, can improve situational awareness for the wearer by calling attention to important features of the environment, such as temperature differentials and unsafe conditions. It can also send information back to a central location for supervisors and managers, so they can help workers avoid potentially hazardous situations.
A smart badge serves a similar function in a simpler way. It provides indoor GPS, which tracks all workers on the site based on their location within a building structure, and feeds that information back to a central location. Managers can thus see their entire workforce in real time, enabling them to identify potentially hazardous situations before they escalate. The badge also can sound a warning signal to the worker if they’re about to step into an unsafe zone.
In addition to the labor savings implied by improved safety and reduced rework, a number of automated “smart construction” machines and technologies use VR and AR to do jobs that once required skilled labor. For instance, a Skycatch drone can generate a 3D VR model of a site that allows automatic calculation of area, volume of earth to be moved, and other information that once required human hours to accomplish.
The same technology can be combined with intelligent construction machinery to allow work to be conducted from inside a trailer rather than inside the cab, thus reducing the number of boots in the field.
One reason construction hasn’t seen efficiency gains like other industries, is that the construction site is in a “constant state of flux.” This constant state of flux makes it difficult to predict and maintain timelines. Even a small change can add days or weeks.
VR technology, such as that available from Skycatch, enables real-time updating of 3D models so that managers in the trailer can see conditions as they change, and adapt to them nearly instantaneously. Logistics and asset management are simplified and made more accurate. Likewise, augmented reality instructions from the Daqri helmet help builders stay on task and on track with their work.
In the same way that VR allows managers to see real-time conditions and adapt for the sake of timelines, it also allows them to catch issues faster and react to them quickly. A utilities engineer, to borrow an example from the AEC article cited above, can watch utilities being installed in near real time, and make design changes as needed. “What took days or weeks with manual data gathering and oversight,” say the authors, “can now be done in minutes.”
The Daqri helmet meanwhile, by allowing managers to see a situation from the worker’s point of view, provides similar ability to work through and resolve issues in real time.
Just as VR enables faster decision-making, it empowers better decision-making. VR promotes a better, faster understanding of shared ideas because it offers a spatial experience that leaves little room for (mis)interpretation. This better understanding means fewer RFIs, fewer change-orders, and less rework — which of course goes back to reduced time to deliver a project, and more safely.
AR, too, helps increase quality by enabling intuitive and rapid construction layout and installation without depending on instruments that take your eyes off the task at hand. Further, AR supports intuitive inspections by overlaying the BIM describing design/construction intent onto as-built conditions to compare and contrast the work in place. This can even be done with covered conditions, giving construction professionals the “ultimate studfinder.”