Applications of VR and AR in Construction
Here are some of the most interesting ways VR will be used in construction as the technology matures. A few of them are obvious, others incredibly creative, but they all make one thing clear: The future is now.
Construction Worker VR Training
Construction is a dangerous line of work, and for the men and women working at jobsites, safety is paramount. According to OSHA, 6.5 million people work on construction sites each day, and the fatal accident rate is higher for the construction industry than any other. Therefore, safe, effective training is of critical importance. The more practice workers can get in a controlled environment, the better off they will be in the field. At the same time, though, it is difficult to create an effective simulation in the physical world.
Workers can practice mounting and dismounting ladders, handling tools, and other potentially dangerous exercises, but things can happen quickly and unexpectedly on a real construction site. There is only so much that can be done with mockups and rehearsals to prepare a worker for an actual emergency.
With virtual reality, though, anything is possible. Advanced computer simulations can create amazingly convincing environments, and with controllers like the Leap Touch, workers can have the feeling of operating real power tools and other equipment. What’s more, the simulation can present the kinds of split-second decisions and unexpected situations that were previously difficult or impossible to recreate, such as what to do if a ladder or scaffolding collapses.
Virtual Reality Plan Reviews
Constructing a building is a lengthy and expensive proposition, and it pays to consider all the variables before laying the first stone. Changing tacks midway through a build is difficult for financial, administrative, and logistical reasons. Blueprints may need to be resubmitted and re-approved by the city or other government authorities. Materials needs may change, and even a small design alteration may have unforeseen effects on other parts of the construction.
At the same time, sometimes needs change, and sometimes tracking every variable simply isn’t possible. Once a building begins to take shape, problems and deficiencies in the design may become apparent that were not visible on the blueprint. It is a difficult problem to solve, and one that has been a thorn in the side of both builders and clients for years.
Virtual reality technology offers a creative and elegant solution to this. With VR, blueprints can be brought to life before a single worker sets foot on the job site. Clients and architects can view the completed building from any angle, life-size, and can even roam the halls to spot hidden problems or flaws. The technology is already in use by McCarthy Building Companies, one of the largest construction firms in the United States. Clients of McCarthy are given the use of an Oculus Rift head-mounted display to virtually tour buildings that exist only on paper and in the digital realm. Clients can make changes to the design quickly and easily, without incurring the expense and logistical unfeasibility of altering physical construction.
Communication, Collaboration, and Their Opposites
The best aspect of virtual reality, at least from the standpoint of workplace productivity, is its geographical agnosticism. Everything that makes it effective for employee training purposes works just as well for collaboration. Team members located around the world could meet in a virtual conference room, pointing and gesturing and using natural body language to communicate. Of course, there’s no reason the conference room has to be a conference room. The team could just as easily meet on top of Mount Everest, in the Oval Office, or in outer space. The virtual environment can serve to focus employees, set the mood, or just provide a welcome change of scenery.