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Altering Reality on the Jobsite

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Augmented reality and virtual reality have combined revenue projections of $61 billion by 2021 and are on their way to widespread use. For construction companies, and others in the AEC industry, the allure of immersive training, quickly communicating design intention, and vastly improving task quality are already proving too much to resist. But hidden inside those headsets and behind those glasses, there are real concerns that need to be addressed.

What’s the difference between the two?

Augmented reality and virtual reality are similar technologies, but are quite different from one another.

Virtual reality so far is largely a consumer tool that people use to consume content. Augmented reality, on the other hand, adds context to the world as people experience it. That makes augmented reality an especially compelling tool for businesses of all types. Some analysts say that both augmented reality and virtual reality are better suited for businesses than consumer applications––although both are currently more prevalent in the consumer market.

But in the future, both technologies are poised to affect construction and other industries by improving training, communication and collaboration, customer service, and entirely new employee and customer experiences, according to Deloitte Technology Consulting.

What are some initial use cases for construction?

Augmented reality promises to make training easier because you don’t need physical items to be present to practice. An electrician wearing augmented reality goggles could wire a virtual electrical panel box that’s projected within the goggle viewing space.

Or imagine a pair of gloves equipped with sensors that alert the user with vibration when they are about to move their hands into dangerous zones. While these may sound like sci fi creations, they are not in the distant future.

This year, Daqri is releasing its Smart Helmet, a hard hat fitted with augmented reality features that allows wearers to superimpose information, drawings, and other data over the real world they see through the device’s display system. Integrated cameras, projection, location sensors, and audio features create many use cases for construction.

When using technology like this, companies can send work packages to workers who then see 4D work instructions superimposed over the work area they are viewing. Wearers can also see thermal characteristics and passively record temperatures right where they are.

Another potential use case is data visualization, where the wearer gains access to technical data when, and where they need it––without having to use their hands to interact with a mobile device.

But beyond all the hype of good things to come, there are also risks on the horizon for companies that adopt augmented and virtual reality.

The Risks of Altered Reality

Eric Sabelman, a bio engineer, and Roger Lam, an emerging health information technology expert, say the safety of these technologies hinges on how they’re designed, the testing they go through before reaching the end user, and the training the end user receives. They cite research where augmented reality causes people to misjudge speeds, underestimate the time available to react, and unintentionally ignore real world hazards.

Are you seeing 20/20?

Stableman and Lam also point out that the differences in the eyesight of individuals pose issues. In experiments, they’ve found that between 5% and 10% of people had so much difficulty changing their focus from the long range real world to the augmented display that they had to quit due to eyestrain. These types of wearables also obscure your vision to some degree, and notifications that get displayed to the side of the glasses or helmet can pose distraction problems.

Privacy & Security Challenges

Both virtual and augmented reality have significant security and privacy concerns, according to Deloitte. Organizations must “track, manage, and harden them to control access to underlying data, applications, and the entitlement rights to the devices.” They must be hardened against various scenarios such as in-use and at rest. Virtual and augmented gear expose both new and different intellectual property to compromise, and potentially increase risks to competitive advantage while creating challenging issues for compliance and regulatory requirements. On the privacy front, there’s a concern personal information collected by the device when mixed with other data will compromise personal information.

Are you ready?

As with any new technology, long before selecting and deploying any type of virtual or augmented reality devices, identify your own particular use cases, and assess the potential risks. Design use cases around single purposes where you can measure impact and reward. Since this market and its related technological development is expected to be volatile for some time to come, you can mitigate risk by planning your initiatives accordingly.

But, as you address the risks and begin exploring these reality-shaking technologies, try not to adapt such a defensive posture that you miss the opportunities behind them. These technologies invite imagination and forward thinking, and unlike earlier technological advancements, they aren’t as constrained by previous tech. In other words, you don’t have to wait––the window to virtual and augmented reality is already wide open.


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