How Augmented and Virtual Reality Will Change the Construction Industry


The construction industry is one of the last to fully embrace the digital revolution, but that is all about to change. The spearhead to that change is mixed realities — virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications that are set to revolutionize the field, save time and resources, and flag planning problems before they happen. On top of all that, they promise to help with safety and training, while also reducing onsite accidents and combating labor shortages.
The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the world will need to spend $57 trillion on infrastructure by 2030 to keep up with global GDP growth. That’s a massive incentive to the industry to improve timescales and budgets. But until now, investment in IT and technological resources has been slow, and rolling out new ideas across complex projects and different geographical resources is a mighty challenge.
“R&D spending in construction runs well behind that of other industries: less than one percent of revenues, versus 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent for the auto and aerospace sectors,” says McKinsey.
“This is also true for spending on information technology, which accounts for less than one percent of revenues for construction, even though a number of new software solutions have been developed for the industry.”

How AR and VR Can Transform the Construction Industry

What’s different about VR and AR is that these are investments that start in the office, not onsite, and they promise to fix some of the basic problems of project planning. Right now, most planning that is done on paper or onscreen delivers static, complex images open to a certain amount of interpretation once in the field.
In contrast, a virtual rendering of a project allows stakeholders to get “inside” a building before construction starts and see where problems might occur. Electrical contractors can overlay their schematics on the blueprints and figure out how they will interact with other workers onsite during construction and how the building’s electronics will integrate and function within the building itself.
“Electricity and the inherent risks associated with its use in the built environment have long since been a priority for the electrical services industry and also the general public who must live and work in this environment,” say electrical engineering researchers in a paper entitled Using Virtual Reality to Enhance Electrical Safety and Design in the Built Environment. “By its nature virtual reality has the advantage of being safe for both the user and equipment. In addition, it offers the user an opportunity to be exposed to a range of scenarios and conditions that either occur infrequently or are hazardous to replicate.”
AR applications can offer some of the same benefits by overlaying schematics on existing buildings, for example, so electricians can walk through a project before it starts.
“We can now build three-dimensional models once available only in our imaginations. Using virtual or augmented reality, plans and structural layouts leave the two-dimensional page and jump into an interactive world. Proposed internal and external environments can now be explored with spatial impacts at the very beginning of the planning and implementation phases,” said Steve Clem, vice president of pre-construction services for Skanska USA Building, in a guest column for the Portland Business Journal.
Planning software and building information modeling (BIM) are the headline applications for AR and VR, but these technologies will also prove invaluable in staff training. VR environments are already in use for training engineers of all stripes at an undergraduate level and will also be key to managing growing staff shortages by retraining existing workers in new techniques. AR applications will allow onsite workers to receive updated information as they work and even advice from the head office about how to alter a plan when the engineer encounters a problem.

VR Market for Construction Set to Explode in the Next Five Years

Market intelligence firm Tractica forecasts that the market for enterprise VR hardware and content will grow from $592.3 million in 2016 to $9.2 billion by 2021, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 59.6 percent. But VR and AR aren’t technologies that are waiting around the corner, they’re already here. According to JB Knowledge’s 5th Annual Construction Technology Report, 7.4 percent of the 2,604 construction professionals surveyed said their firms are already trying out VR and 7.1 percent are experimenting with AR applications.
Mixed realities are set to revolutionize the electrical construction industry by drastically improving planning and design, and thus preventing budget and deadline overruns. These applications will also improve safety onsite for both electricians and other workers and help to train and assist the engineers of the future.

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