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Making the Built Environment Easier to Visualise


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Beyond the augmented reality of the Pokemon Go craze, where animated creatures were superimposed on the real world using a camera, and beyond virtual reality roller coasters and shark swims, where  users wear a headset, these two technologies are finding practical and cost effective applications in the business world.

The medical profession and aviation industry has been quick to jump on virtual reality as a safe way to train its doctors and pilots, and the construction industry is also using the technology in ways unheard of a few years ago.

These two technologies are finding practical and cost effective applications in the business world.


Since 2015, our smartphones have been able to create 360-degree videos without investing in expensive specialist equipment. All you need is a smartphone and a good screen or monitor to view on.

This is ideal for builders and architects to share site details quickly and easily with investors or other trades working on the project, but Virtual and Augmented Reality takes the technology a step further.

The benefits of using augmented or virtual reality have been credited with reducing client and project approval times, enabling users who may not otherwise be familiar with navigating 2D plans, to see their project rendered in glorious and exciting 3D.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) can allow users to superimpose images and designs onto real images. This can include being able to see how 3D building models will fit into the surrounding environment, or even how features may fit into a building. AR allows the user to maintain full awareness of the real world, but superimposes additional information onto their surroundings. The advantage of Augmented Reality is that it is relatively easy to adopt and requires little more than a smartphone, relevant app and screen for presentations. You can add headsets for a more immersive experience but it is not essential. 

Some of the more interesting apps include:

  • AR Entrance - This enables builders to “try” different entrances (doorways) from Dormakaba’s product range to a see which solution works for their building requirements.

  • ARki is a real-time augmented reality visualisation service for architectural models. It incorporates AR technology into architecture by providing 3-D models with multiple levels of interactivity for both design and presentation purposes.   

  • Pair - allows architects to drag-and-drop 3-D models of consumer furnishings and appliances into their designs using iPhones or iPads. Their online catalog of models and assets now features over 200 home and office furniture products from Fortune 500 manufacturers, with new products being added every day.

  • SmartReality is an augmented reality mobile app that uses the mobile device’s camera to overlay an interactive BIM model over printed construction plans to create 3-D visualisations of projects. It allows users to zoom, expose structural layers with a touch, move through stages of a project over time and record images and video of their experience. Users can create a free account to upload 2-D plans and get matching 3-D plans and models for a quote.

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) typically requires more equipment than AR, but it is now very affordable and available at most electronic retailers. You will need a head mounted display (HMD) that covers the eyes and ears of users to create a completely immersive experience. Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, and HTC Vive are all excellent products.

VR can be used for virtual meetings at a building site or product showroom, where users can see and experience buildings and products as they may one day look in reality. One US company, McCarthy, which builds hospitals and clinics, uses VR to walk the nurses and doctors through to advise where internal features should be located, such as powerpoints, light switches and medical equipment.

Some interesting VR apps include:

  • Fuzor - a next generation VDC solution for the construction industry which provides VR, Coordination, Collaboration, 4D construction simulation, 5D cost tracking and much more. Load in Navisworks, P6, and Microsoft project schedules or create it directly in Fuzor. Plan construction site logistics with vehicle and worker simulations. Animations that used to take hours or days can be done in a few clicks. Walk around the 4D sequence in VR, see BIM information of each element in real-time and minimise possible delays before construction begins.

  • Shapespark enables interior designers and architects to create real-time web-based visualisations with physically accurate lighting — perfect for meetings or presentations with clients. The visualisations can be shared via links, and supports the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, providing users with a stereoscopic 3D view. 

  • Enscape is a Revit plugin that creates a VR walkthrough with one click, based on your BIM data. There is no need to download or learn how to operate additional software. All materials, geometry and entourage come from your Revit project and can be changed during the VR simulation. This flexibility allows spontaneous presentations with the real-time rendering within the architectural design workflow. Customers can virtually walk through your Enscape project and experience it as if it were already built.

  • CertifyMe.net, a forklift training, and certification company, has a VR training program that allows trainees to practice working the machinery in an easy and safe environment. It reduces the risk of injury and damage to equipment while allowing for trial-and-error practice. VR equipment training is also ideal for workers on remote sites.

A strong positive for both virtual and augmented reality applications is that it is not too expensive to create your own bespoke app. You are only limited by your imagination. Many companies are successfully creating OH&S VR apps to train workers using their worksite as the training ground, enabling them to experience a more realistic and valuable simulation scenario.

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