Is a BIM-ready construction sector ready to embrace augmented reality (AR) as a standard practice? Will it tightly integrate the design and construction phases for improved communication, quality and efficiency across the building design and development, or is it still an add-on to core working practices? Gaurang Trivedi investigates.
The construction sector is slowly but successfully transforming itself into a digital environment with the adoption of BIM. The practice of building design, which once used to happen in silo, is now more collaborative.
The envisaged single federated model through BIM Level 3 will further uncover potential benefits to companies with seamless, real-time collaboration. But for that to happen, the physical and digital aspects of the construction projects need to be integrated more tightly.
This is where augmented reality (AR) is finding its space in the construction sector that has already started embracing BIM workflows. Propagators of this technology say that AR is one of the key innovations that will create a strong integration between digital and physical phases of building design and construction.
The potential of AR technology in the construction sector cannot be neglected. It can essentially help in improving communication, quality and efficiency for all the stakeholders involved in the project. Gaia Dempsey, co-founder and VP at US tech firm Daqri, believes that AR can be applied across the development cycle to improve productivity.
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Gaia envisions that architects and designers can use AR to visualise their work in a life-size format and can keep track of new model versions and changes. The most promising part of AR over a simple display is that it can produce information in the right spatial and task context, which can include all the architectural, structural and MEP details. This makes it possible to identify design issues early and resolve them before the ground is broken.
Apart from the design stage, Gaia believes that AR is an excellent means to show customers and investors various design options in an interactive format. There is a possibility to involve clients in the design phase and incorporate their feedback in the design. It is possible for them to also compare the design versus as-built to see the project progress.
The technology can play a major role in facilities management too, by providing a way to easily visualise the information required to maintain or upgrade the facilities.
How real is augmented reality today?
If we go by the recent studies, AR usage over the coming years is expected to grow exponentially and construction firms are increasingly turning to it. However, the construction industry is still in early stages of exploring the technology and completely understanding immersive reality.
And there are still issues with AR in mapping 3D geometry and data over reality. Delivering the promise that users wearing the headsets or glasses will receive real-time information requires faster processing and use of sensors and other gear to accurately map the environment.
But one of the important aspects for AR to become functional is the need to have 3D content. BIM Level 2 companies in this case are likely to get the benefit of documenting their building designs in 3D. Firms with 2D processes will find themselves already disadvantaged in the market.
There is a definitive growth, however, in firms adopting immersive technologies for design reviews or making the design more effective. This change is pushing the stakeholders to engage in an altogether different kind of conversation.
But it is still too early to say that the construction sector is on brink of another digital revolution. Augmented reality, at present, is still an add-on rather than at the core of working practices.
Gaurang Trivedi is engineering consultant at Hi-Tech CADD Services
AR usage over the coming years is expected to grow exponentially and construction firms are increasingly turning to it. However, the construction industry is still in early stages of exploring the technology and completely understanding immersive reality.– Gaurang Trivedi, Hi-Tech CADD Services