Get ready for a hard truth if you’re a construction manager: if you don’t have every single one of your workers wandering around the construction site with Oculus Rifts strapped to their heads, your project will fail. And if you didn’t spend tens of thousands of dollars on specialized software for those gadgets, that’s two strikes.
After all, how will you build a structure without using 3D modeling? It’s literally never been done before in the history of human civilization.
Alright, as you well know, augmented reality is not quite ready for widespread adoption, and most construction managers rightfully give it only a passing glance. But as the last ten or even five years have taught us, technology adoption has been moving really fast, even in the notoriously slow-to-adopt construction industry.
Someday, augmented reality software and hardware will become commonplace in the construction industry. Early adopter or not, there are five things you should know about where it stands right now. Read on to discover whether you’re ready to get in the augmented reality game yet, or if you should sit on the sidelines.
1. Augmented reality is not virtual reality
(via Oculus Rift)
We all know what virtual reality is: it replaces the real world with a simulated version. Augmented reality takes the real world and adds to it, such as overlaying a 3D model of your design over a real view of the project area. In augmented reality, real images interact with computer-generated images in a way that is helpful to the viewer.
You’ve probably seen it in video games, but there are practical applications in many industries, including construction. Some builders have already started using augmented reality to show clients their proposed designs using iPads or other mobile devices, right there on the construction site. You can imagine how helpful that would be to your business.
2. It’s now a lot more accessible for smaller firms
Only the big architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms have been able to put augmented reality to practical use so far, for the most part. Large companies have sizeable technology teams that are capable of devoting lots of hours tweaking and fitting an augmented reality platform that could work for them, a luxury small construction businesses don’t have.
Although it’s not quite a seamless fit right off the shelf for most construction managers, augmented reality is becoming more accessible, both because the technology is advancing and because prices are coming down. Increasingly, augmented reality is available on a per-project basis, instead of requiring a massive up-front fee only the big firms could afford. ZapWorks, for example, allows you to create “just about any kind of Augmented Reality experience you like” for free on a 30-day trial, with a basic subscription of $45 per seat per month after that, and $135 for the pro version.
One interior design firm in the UK, Area Sq, is looking into creating software that would allow clients to picture fittings and materials in their home from the very first stages, and many other similar companies have explored augmented reality as a way to let their clients picture what their home can become. A construction manager could do the same thing with a construction project, using the software to turn a patch of dirt into towering office building, right on site.
Or, you could do it right on top of a table in a conference room, like AR firm SmartReality does. Imagine being able to show a prospective client what their building will look like right on the table you’re both sitting at—talk about instant credibility.
3. It’s not just for 3D models
Creating 3D models is the obvious application for augmented reality in construction, but there is at least one other potential use: keeping your workers safe.
Software company Daqri, founded in 2010, has introduced a “Smart Helmet” that uses AR and other sensor technology to monitor workers in a number of industries, including construction, according to Gartner research:
With the addition of Melon’s technology, the Smart Helmet will be able to monitor workers’ vital signs, like heart rate, skin temperature, stress level, attention and fatigue and to provide real-time analysis. In the future, this technology may also be used in other Daqri products.
Having access to this information will enable you to manage your workforce more effectively, and spot problems before they happen. Avoiding safety risks has a big effect on the bottom line, as unsafe activity can destroy a well-planned budget and schedule, throwing your project into chaos.
4. The industry still isn’t ready to embrace augmented reality
So if augmented reality can do all this cool stuff, why is it not widespread in the construction industry yet? There’s three main reasons: price, accuracy, and the fact that it relies on a static environment.
Yes, AR is more accessible than it ever has been, but big construction companies still dominate AR implementation because many augmented reality firms charge big up-front fees of hundreds of thousands of dollars for an enterprise solution. That high price tag will inevitably decrease as AR technology improves and more competition enters the market, but that process tends to be slow.
A second major problem is that augmented reality often provides inaccurate information. For example, if an AR system allows you to “see” a pipe underground, and the location of that pipe isn’t 100% accurate, contractors might hit the pipe when they start digging. Construction companies need to be able to rely on the tools they use, whether it’s their construction management software or new augmented reality hardware.
A third significant hurdle to AR technology adoption is the dynamic nature of construction sites. A construction zone is a place of constant movement: structures are being built, heavy objects are being moved around, and plans constantly change on the fly. Augmented reality, on the other hand, works in a static environment where everything remains the same. Improvements in technology will hopefully fix this down the road so that it will respond in real time to environmental changes, but currently, most AR tech just isn’t agile enough to keep up with a busy work site.
None of these necessarily mean AR is a bad fit for you, but they are hurdles a smaller construction business is likely to encounter.
5. There’s lots of new software out there
Hey, don’t feel behind the times: we’re new to the augmented reality game as well. Capterra just added an augmented reality software category in January, and already we’ve got 21 listings, so there’s plenty of interesting software out there to explore.
Do you know of any awesome augmented reality software that has been helpful to you? Please, let us know below. Have you used any of the software on our list? Do everyone a big favor and leave a review.