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By James Galvin
February 4, 2019
There is an abundance of technology set to disrupt industries across the globe over the coming years: artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain tech, autonomous devices. For construction, however, the chief disruptor could be virtual and augmented reality.
Imagine deciding to build a house one day – no small investment by any standards – and then briefing a construction company on what you desired the house to look like, what materials you like, what colours you love, and what architectural design you are fond of. Then, after just a couple of days, without any investment into the construction as of yet, imagine putting a headset on and being able to stroll through that house, examine the size of each room and the height of the ceiling, inspect the colours, and view the timber and exposed brickwork.
Although previously nothing more than a pipe dream, this practice has become nearly reality thanks to the evolution of virtual reality. With companies like Facebook throwing USD$2 billion into the new tech and some VR companies like Magic Leap being valued at over USD$4 billion without even creating a product, it is safe to say that this new tech is going to become far normalised and widely used.
The construction sector is already undergoing some change. Melbourne’s Deakin University has recently launched VR CAVE. It is an area students can move through and analyse, it serves to help them recognise potential design flaws in buildings and identify hazardous environments. Various other Australian universities including University of NSW, University of Adelaide, University of South Australia and Western Sydney University have begun development of a Situation Engine, where students can experience various different situation and environments to improve their learning and understanding.
Meanwhile, in the United States, McCarthy Building Companies were quick to adopt the technology to facilitate feedback on the design of the Martin Luther King Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Centre in Los Angeles. The construction company gave hospital staff VR headsets and a digital representation of the hospital before construction. This allowed the staff to give feedback as to where equipment should be placed and what amends need to be made to make the building as well-designed and prepared as possible. In hospital environments, small changes to where trashcans, electricity outlets, and load bearing walls are located are critical elements, sometimes saving people’s lives in the race to equipment and facilities.
Another piece of technology that is quite similar to virtual reality, and is already being used on some construction sites to change the way personnel interact with the site, is augmented reality. Using GPS tracking of each device and combined 3D architectural elements, an on-site worker can put on glasses or hold up a tablet/phone and see a three-dimensional concept of an object including labels, place markers, and measurements.
AR gives the ability to visually identify structural objects and how the elements interact. In the case of large-scale building projects like treatment plants, underground tunnels, and high-rise buildings it means greatly decreasing the chance of error, potentially saving millions in constructional costs.
The race is on for software and manufacturing companies, as the technological capabilities and applications become widely recognised to develop the products and reduce the cost.
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