As immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) continue to advance, many business leaders recognize the value of these tools as fundamental elements for visualizing complex data and supporting more information-rich experiences. In fact, worldwide spending on augmented and virtual reality is expected to surpass $20 billion in 2019, according to IDC.
One industry that is starting to more widely embrace this technology is the construction industry. Construction projects are becoming increasingly complex, and with the current labor shortage and lack of skilled workers, the construction industry is increasingly expected to do more with less.
Mixed reality provides a way to help construction companies support complex modeling processes and improve opportunities for collaboration across projects.
What is mixed reality?
Mixed-reality technology blends real-world objects with digital content, interactively, and in real-time. Together with holographic technology, it brings the models out of the screen and helps people efficiently interpret physical and digital information, and the spatial relations between them. The projected holograms can appear life-like and can move, be shaped and changed according to interaction with the user or the physical environment. Gestures, gaze and voice commands can be used to navigate and control the presented content.
It is a technology that merges real and virtual worlds to create brand new environments where physical and digital components can interact in real time. It’s “mixed” reality because it encompasses both augmented/virtual reality and the real world via immersive technology, letting users see the real environment overlaid with holographic data from a 3D model. Integrating digital content with the physical world provides an enriched perspective of coexisting environments.
Uses of mixed reality in construction
Mixed reality is transforming the construction industry by improving the understanding and communication of complex spatial conditions through a truly immersive experience. By combining the real world with the virtual world, construction companies are supporting a new way of working with models and coordination throughout the building lifecycle, providing stakeholders with the most up-to-date data on their worksite.
New wearable, immersive mixed reality devices are being integrated with software to deliver even more value. Paired with a compliant hard hat, the complete solution can map the physical environment and provide precise alignment of holographic data on the job site.
Increased productivity and efficiency
More than simply the ability to look at the model, advanced mixed-reality solutions give users access to critical building information modeling (BIM) data embedded within project components. By visualizing and “walking through” their projects in the digital world, teams can route changes and RFIs much more quickly and also accelerate the pre-construction process. They can also identify site issues earlier to reduce downstream rework and prevent chaos during the coordination. This is helping companies shorten project schedules, reduce costs, eliminate rework, and support additional workflows like on-site assembly, progress tracking using 4D models, and even asset management.
Collaboration between office and field
Mixed reality helps field workers know exactly what task to perform and provides instant feedback to help identify clashes or differences between the model and the as-built environment. When field workers can see their models overlaid in the physical environment, more precise collaboration, project tracking and project coordination is possible.
Quality assurance and control
Mixed reality solutions are also playing a key role in enabling quality assurance coordination and clash detection much earlier in the project lifecycle by coordinating multiple 3D models, which is better than using a 2D screen where it’s easy to overlook issues. Contractors can review and approve mission-critical designs by verifying the interaction and constructability of complex systems before they are fabricated and installed. It also saves costs by helping to catch potential issues in the virtual world before something gets built, so companies don’t have to tear things out and start over.
Traditionally, many construction executives have viewed mixed reality as an attractive tool for marketing and business development, but they may not see it as a must-have solution for their business. However, there are many benefits beyond real-time sharing of information that can help solve some of the construction industry’s biggest challenges, including the following:
- Accelerating decision making and reducing downtime by enhancing communication and collaboration between local and remote teams.
- Maximizing BIM investment to track progress, quickly identifying discrepancies, and assuring quality by overlaying models on the real world.
- Increasing confidence and reducing rework by effectively conveying and clarifying design intent and impact to all stakeholders.
- Helping to attract a younger generation of workers who are already very comfortable with virtual/augmented reality and know how to navigate these solutions.
As the digital transformation continues in the construction industry and beyond, Mixed Reality will play a bigger role in helping companies integrate and use technology in ways that have yet to be imagined.