There are some technologies that have dominated the discussion in the past year or two. Most popular has been artificial intelligence, the AI that everyone talked about in 2023, which was covered in Part 1. Another A buzzword is AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) and its massive cousin, the metaverse. AR and VR have been around for a while in various forms, including video games.
Many people are familiar with the glasses that are used with AR and VR. The difference is inside those glasses.
- Augmented reality augments your surroundings by adding digital elements to a live view, often by using the camera on a smartphone.
- Virtual reality is a completely immersive experience that replaces a real-life environment with a simulated one.
The experts at Splunk.com note in virtual reality, the user almost always wears an eye-covering headset and headphones to completely replace the real world with the virtual one. The idea of VR is to eliminate the real world as much as possible and insulate the user from it. Once inside, the VR universe can be coded to provide just about anything, ranging from a light saber battle with Darth Vader to a realistic (yet wholly invented) recreation of Mars.
Augmented reality, on the other hand, integrates the simulated world with the real one. In most applications the user relies on a smartphone or tablet screen to accomplish this, aiming the phone’s camera at a point of interest, and generating a live-streaming video of that scene on the screen. The screen is then overlaid with helpful information, which includes implementations such as repair instructions, navigation information, or diagnostic data.
In AR, a virtual environment is designed to coexist with the real environment, with the goal of being informative and providing additional data about the real world, which a user can access without having to do a search. For example, industrial AR apps could offer instant troubleshooting information when a handset is aimed at a piece of failing equipment.
AR/VR and Construction
Augmented and virtual reality allow architects to take their designs to a new level, opening far-reaching opportunities for the construction industry. According to current projections, worldwide construction spending will reach $15.5 trillion by 2030. By 2028, when its marketshare is expected to reach $250 billion, AR/VR technology could completely change the entire market.
In the meantime, the newest AR/VR technologies can cut building costs and save the construction industry up to $15 billion through preventing mistakes caused by insufficient or inaccurate data. Construction has made steady advances toward more technologically advanced processes and AR/VR are built on top of existing technologies to give construction teams more information and help them plan better.
PixelPlex, a company focused on AR/VR, believes construction companies that successfully adopt and integrate these technologies gain a competitive edge. However, AR/VR needs to gain traction before it is in wider use.
As for benefits, leveraging AR/VR tools for the construction market can:
Lower development costs and reduce time
Construction companies can employ AR/VR technology to plan a project from beginning to end, streamline the processes involved in most building projects, and decrease guesswork, thus saving time and money while providing substantial design insights to clients and architects, and ensuring everyone is on the same page.
Enable safety training
Construction is a high-risk field, but thanks to VR-based training solutions, professionals can recreate real-life events in a fully immersive, risk-free environment.
Improve collaboration and communications
VR tools ensure a more transparent project development process and more productive partnerships.
Still, there are still limitations:
Weather-sensitive equipment and static environment
Equipment is frequently exposed to adverse weather and performs best when the environment remains largely unchanged.
The need for a strong internet connection
While augmented reality apps can work offline, real-time collaboration won’t be possible without the internet.
The necessity of learning curve
A new application like AR comes with a learning curve that may prevent companies from investing in the technology. But with the advent of open-source mobile toolkits for AR, the cost of developing augmented reality apps is decreasing, and small-to-medium businesses have begun to reap the benefits of AR building.
Construction obviously is not a single process but a series of stages to go through to complete a project. The AR/VR approach is unique in that it is not confined to a single step or setting, and it can be used to solve the problems faced by a variety of specialists in this sector.
In the Beginning
The value of AR/VR technology in construction begins in the planning and permission stages. Combined with 3D modeling software and BIM (building information modeling), construction companies can produce detailed, interactive models of building projects and present them to clients from the outset of a project.
Incorporating all the digital information and documentation of a project with its physical location is one of the significant benefits of using AR. The technology can help users to access and visualize data such as the location, style, and type of additions to the building shell, ranging from architectural components such as windows and doors to elements like ducts and pipes.
For on-site crews, the ability to merge all digital information and documentation with their physical view is a game-changer. For example, Microsoft’s HoloLens can display the physical dimensions of a space. This data can then be included in 3D models, allowing for more precise visualization and construction processes. As the industry struggles with productivity, this application will be an indispensable part of project management.
As the Nemetschek Group points out, using virtual environments to design and visualize buildings before they are built in the real world has been growing in popularity for some time. While still in its infancy, this technology evolved tremendously. Technologies such as virtual and augmented reality are being used to improve communication and collaboration between everyone involved in construction. VR can be used to perform virtual modeling and testing, which can help reduce errors and rework. For example, VR can be used to create virtual walk-throughs of buildings and infrastructure, which can improve communication between designers, engineers, and contractors.
AR can be used to provide realtime information on the jobsite, such as construction schedules and safety procedures, which can help improve efficiency and safety. Both AR and VR are precursors to the metaverse—significantly changing the way teams design, build, and operate. The metaverse will drive this change.
According to Ernst & Young (EY.com), quoting Bloomberg, the global revenue opportunity in the metaverse is set to reach as much as $800 billion by 2024 alone. Innovative initiatives are booming and often involve players in CRE (construction and real estate). Examples include city co-development and co-design, as seen in Singapore, or enhanced city development as initiated by the University of Pretoria.
In addition, a trend toward co-development and co-design based on BIM and digital twin in a more immersive way, but also through the trade of virtual land and assets such as architectural designs and real houses using NFTs (non-fungible tokens). The areas where EY sees the most impact are:
- The Metaverse will boost collaboration and move today’s digital twins from providing real-time virtual models of urban fabric to enabling immersive development and design that helps avoid costly planning errors and implementations and post-production adaptations.
- The future of CRE business relations will include virtual collaboration, moving from today’s BIM collaboration and common data environments enhanced by mixed reality to an immersive experience from co-design to co-experience across the value chain to final transactions.
BIM is already a powerful tool for collaboration and communication in construction and the metaverse could take BIM to the next level by providing a platform for stakeholders to interact with virtual representations of buildings and infrastructure projects in real-time.
- A general contractor could use the metaverse to create a virtual representation of a construction site. This would allow subcontractors to bid on the project and plan their work without having to visit the site in person.
- An architect could use the metaverse to create a virtual model of a building. This would allow the client to visualize the building in 3D and make changes before construction begins.
- A facility manager could use the metaverse to track the condition of assets and identify potential problems early on. This would help to reduce downtime and maintenance costs.
The metaverse is a new technology with the potential to revolutionize many industries, including construction. BIM and the metaverse are a natural fit, and we can expect to see them used together more and more in the coming years.
The metaverse offers unique opportunities to the construction industry, explains the Nemetschek Group. In particular, collaboration on international projects or different locally based teams, is greatly simplified. All stakeholders can meet in one place, exchange ideas, and monitor progress. There is no longer a need for video calls or on-site inspections—instead, all work steps can take place in the metaverse.
In addition, the metaverse offers the potential for a centralized project facility where all model data can be hosted to streamline collaboration, BIM coordination, and visualization. The potential benefits of the metaverse for collaboration, client acquisition and exchange, design visualization, and BIM coordination are too great to ignore.
But there are also limitations: For example, it must be possible to resolve liability issues even in the metaverse when errors occur—and data must be safe from subsequent manipulation. With blockchain technology, digital data can be managed in teams in a tamper-proof and transparent manner. In addition, collaboration processes in the planning and construction phase can be made more transparent and handled more securely.
With blockchain as the infrastructure for collaboration, intellectual property rights can be effectively protected in the future, and redundant and time-consuming documentation can be made unnecessary. In this context, a blockchain (or data record chain) is nothing more than a large database that starts with an “originating data block.” New data blocks are always appended chronologically and subsequently in an unalterable manner after they have been checked and confirmed by all parties involved. Each newly generated block refers to its predecessor with a unique identification number (the “hash”).
The resulting database thus maps a history of data records. In a blockchain, all processes are therefore not completed on one computer, but simultaneously on several computers. This procedure additionally increases the security against manipulation. A blockchain is not updated and validated by a single institution or person, but by all members in the network together. This agreement is called consensus. Blockchain technology is essential to a secure metaverse for the construction industry.
The metaverse offers a unique opportunity to the construction industry: it allows people to be immersed in the construction project during a wide variety of phases. They can augment the physical world with all the information in the model or digital twin as the infrastructure is designed, built, and operated.
The metaverse ensures both collaboration and communication with each other are transformed. These advances enable a borderless exchange of ideas within a team, across the country, or around the world: experts from all countries can come together in the metaverse to collaborate on solutions—contributing to better, more sustainable, and more efficient buildings.
The metaverse is not yet a fully developed concept—and it will take openness and uniform standards to increase acceptance of such an immersive experience—in society, but also in the construction industry. However, the metaverse offers significant benefits to all stakeholders, bringing greater collaboration, communication, and efficiency to an industry that still needs to catch up in all three of these areas. Buildings and infrastructures can be experienced in all dimensions in the metaverse—and all those involved in the building lifecycle can use the metaverse to design, construct, and operate better buildings.
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