Augmented Reality has emerged as an essential tool for improving productivity and quality assurance, while minimizing customer and stakeholder-initiated change orders.
To deliver on the promise of digitizing design and construction, key issues that result in cost overruns and project delivery delays must be addressed. Chief among these are customer and stakeholder-initiated change orders, especially when they arise after construction has started. In addition, the use of immersive experience technologies is helping users realize other benefits and productivity gains throughout project life cycles.
Today, a large number of tools are available to digitally connect 3D design visualizations with customers and stakeholders. These tools are largely simple, affordable, easy to learn, and connect live to project models and processes. Whether virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), or mixed reality (MR), 3D-immersive experiences have proven their utility and risen in prominence as front line tools for customer engagement.
Engagement Tools Evolution
3D representations of project elements have always played a role in stakeholder engagement, from architectural renderings through physical models and miniatures. More recently it was common practice to overlay 2D designs on aerial photos and GIS themes for engagement. While effective, these legacy methods and tools do not hold the power of presenting the 3D design models to stakeholders through immersive technology.
Prior to AR, conveying project elements to those outside of the design and construction teams was particularly challenging. AEC professionals and practitioners develop skills to visualize features from 2D drawings and specifications and can conceptualize progressions from schedules. However, customers, stakeholders, impacted community, and even members of project teams may not have the skills needed. This is where 3D and immersive technology shines.
Today, people are increasingly comfortable with--and have come to expect--immersive digital environments, from gaming to real-estate walkthroughs, to online commerce. For example, retailers now provide AR applications using your phone’s camera to help you visualize how a product, such as a piece of furniture, might look in your own home.
The more places AR can be used in a project cycle, the greater the benefits, beginning with the planning phase.
Planning and Buy-In
Without understanding the visual and functional impacts that proposed construction may have on a community, projects can meet local resistance—and AR has proven to be an effective tool for mitigating such opposition.
Such was the case with a beloved playcenter in the town of Rolleston, New Zealand. Local residents and childcare center members were concerned about the impacts of a road realignment, adjacent commercial development, and the addition of traffic-calming features (e.g., speed bumps and driveway entrance narrowing).
In this instance, the use of AR was initiated by playcenter community members who acquired 3D design models from the respective engineering firms and deployed real-time in 3D AR. The solution was Trimble SiteVision™ technology, a handheld AR solution that runs on a smartphone attached to a light-weight GNSS antenna that enables high accuracy positioning of the 3D model/data in the real world. This solution was used to show the proposed features to stakeholders, in this case the childcare center workers and parents, yielding the essential feedback to foster buy-in and helping refine design alternatives.
AR also played a key role in one of the largest highway projects in the UK, the A14, for which the process of seeking broad buy-in was a substantial undertaking. Contractor Skanska UK used Trimble’s SiteVision. The solution provides precise positioning and orientation of proposed 3D designs, projected in real time over landscape views captured by the phone’s camera. Easy enough to be operated by anyone, local communities were given live, real-world views of how proposed bridges, drainage structures, and widened roadways would look in their own neighborhoods.
Test Driving Alternatives
Augmented reality provides designers a rich environment in which to test design alternatives and engage customers and stakeholders directly during the design phase decision-making process. Temporal and environmental simulations can be run including diurnal, seasonal, and artificial lighting; vehicular and pedestrian traffic flows, and determining how staging, landscaping, and construction phases will look.
Though not necessarily an inevitability, customer-initiated change orders are among the costliest to mitigate. ViaNova, a prominent Norwegian design firm, used AR to avert costly rework at the site of the new Falkenborg Bridge, near Trondheim. Two SiteVision handheld units were used on site visits by design team members and customer representatives. Different aspects of bridge design could be viewed at the same time from different vantage points.
ViaNova discovered that elements of an access ramp did not fit the site well, both visually and spatially. The discovery produced informed design changes to the ramp prior to any construction—a far better and less costly outcome than if these issues had not been discovered until much later in the construction cycle.
Owners, clients, investors and communities are all stakeholders sharing expectations for positive outcomes—this is also true for project teams. Designers, general contractors, sub contractors, and inspectors are finding AR to be a superior and far more effective onsite and between site and office communications tool. With AR every crew and worker can, at their initial site briefing, gain a clear understanding of goals for the project, at any point in time. For instance, a mid-sized consulting engineering company has successfully used Trimble's SiteVision AR product to extend design reviews from the office to constructability reviews on-site engaging a much larger audience and skill set in the process to achieve a better outcome. The next best thing to being able to travel forward in time to see a finished project is viewing the project in augmented reality.
Workers can be rapidly brought up to speed on tasks and workflows when AR is added to site briefings. Progressive phases of construction can be viewed on AR devices in increments—forwards and back. In the same way that utility conflicts can be identified with AR, teams can identify, in advance, potential operational conflicts and hazards. This can include where to site cranes, route heavy equipment, set up lighting, stage materials, manage site traffic, where to run temporary power and comms and—most important—identify safety hazards.
Construction-specific features and tools have been added to augmented reality based applications. For example, Trimble’s SiteVision product includes the ability to create designs in the field using augmented reality and upload to earthmoving machines for construction. Real-time cut/fill indicators that can be used to track progress as well as help equipment operators visualize and develop site-specific grading strategies.
Affordable, accessible, real-time high accuracy augmented reality is reducing instances of after-the-fact regrets and rework. By sharing common immersive experiences, everyone involved, including team members, customers, stakeholders, and subject communities, can easily visualize, conceptualize—and come to agree—on key decisions.