The potential of virtual- and augmented-reality headsets is seen not only in the design world but also among major equipment makers, as well. John Carpenter, Caterpillar Inc.’s manager of global construction technology and solutions, illustrated this point when ENR sat down at his office at Cat’s headquarters this past August. Carpenter handed us a Google Cardboard-style 3D VR viewer attached to a smartphone loaded with a simulation of a roller coaster. After the diversion, Carpenter explained why technology such as this will soon change the life cycle of projects, from design through construction.

ENR: So, what do you do at Caterpillar?

Carpenter: My team is the voice of the jobsite. We are the ones who say, “If we really are going to deliver in this fast-paced technology and data space at the jobsite, we need to understand how our customers make money, what are their pain points and what can we do to develop internally or partner with others to really digitize their experience?” Because this is going to happen fast—faster than our iron cycles.

So, where do the VR goggles fit into that?

Well, there is a variety of places. One is just simulation. So, true virtual reality is putting you in another world. You put it on, and you are transformed into that roller coaster. You put it on, and you are in the cab of a wheel loader, and you are practicing how it works. There are virtual-reality annual reports now. In one of them you can download, it will take you out to an oil rig, but you are virtually somewhere else.

Augmented, or mixed, reality is where we see an even greater opportunity. So, now you are seeing the real world through the goggles, but things are augmented or added to your view—for example, by immediately identifying that there is a model 777 truck and a 980 wheel loader and a Ford pickup truck. Maybe it’s programmed to give you the data off it: How many tons is it holding right now? Are there any service issues related to what I’m seeing?

With labor pools getting tougher and tougher [and] the complexity [of equipment] going up higher and higher because of Tier 4 emissions and electronics, why not expand your expertise faster by having goggles? I can be back at a main dealership and see what that person in the field is seeing and direct him or her through what to do to fix something. Or, if I’m out there by myself, [I can] pull up a parts diagram for this alternator and order it right then and there.

What about having some kind of augmented reality for the machine operator, such as on the dashboard or up on the windshield?

A possibility. We are looking into those things, as well.

Is that something that is two years away or 10 years away?

The capability is here now. The question is [getting it working] with all of the foreign material and dust. It’s on our radar, but it’s not the primary value drivers we are hearing from customers. Frankly, though, I can’t live without it on my car.