Trimble LogoAugmented reality (AR) may sound like the latest technology trend, but it’s been in use for years. It’s become so familiar in some applications, like sports broadcasting, that you may not even realize what you’re seeing is AR in action. For example, if you’ve watched an NFL game in the past 20 years, you’ve seen the yellow first down line that marks the first down location on the field. Similarly, if you watch golf, you’ve noticed how the flight of the ball is traced with a curved line. In both cases, AR makes these visualizations possible.

AR is also being used in a number of industries like manufacturing, transportation, and the military to increase the efficiency of internal processes, speed up the delivery of products and services, and improve productivity. As those in the construction industry continue to adopt AR, similar benefits are being realized. In fact, construction is among the industries that stands to benefit most.

AR is already helping AEC professionals:

  • Visualize projects and achieve a shared understanding of design intent
  • Improve communication and collaboration internally and externally
  • More effectively plan and complete work
  • Safely navigate job sites and deliver training
  • Increase productivity and project delivery

Despite the obvious positive impact AR is having on the construction industry, the technology may still seem beyond reach for some. But to keep pace with a changing industry and competitors who are already one step ahead, your organization needs to develop an understanding of AR technology and consider how it can be used. Once you begin to see the potential that AR holds for your organization, you’ll be more clear about the steps you can take to make it a reality.

 

Augmented Reality in Construction
 

Benefits of Augmented Reality in Construction

The use of 3D modeling in combination with digital construction data is finally breaking down some of the industry’s long-standing barriers to efficiency and productivity, especially the problem of siloed teams and disconnected workflows. AR and other related technologies like virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR)—collectively known as extended reality (XR)—are building upon this momentum.

The applications of AR aren’t limited to making improvements in productivity—though it does that exceptionally well. AR is also helping construction teams increase stakeholder engagement, both internally and externally. By making it possible for everyone involved in a project to visualize the design in its real-world environment, AR is enabling a shared understanding of the project, helping to close the communication and coordination gaps that have traditionally existed between the field and the office, while reducing the risk of confusion, conflict, and errors.
 

Benefits of Augmented Reality
 

Internal teams can uncover potential problems and hazards, make better decisions faster, communicate project changes to each other, and coordinate their work more effectively. Meanwhile, external stakeholders like owners, investors, adjacent property owners, and public officials can more clearly and accurately foresee the end result in the actual environment.

In essence, AR facilitates the kind of engagement, collaboration, and support needed to ensure successful project delivery. It benefits the construction industry by:

  • Enabling shared project visibility and understanding
  • Fostering better communication and collaboration among internal and external stakeholders
  • Improving planning and safety on the jobsite
  • Increasing efficiency and productivity across workflows
     

How to Use Augmented Reality in Construction

In construction applications, AR typically relies on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet. Using the device’s camera, the AR tool captures a live image of the user’s actual physical environment and overlays a detailed BIM model onto it.

The user is able to see the 3D model overlaid on the physical surroundings and accurately located in context. This enables them to visualize and understand the placement of the structure to be built, as well as specific design features or underground systems located nearby. Accurate GPS positioning ensures the user sees the right digital content in the right location—updating the model correctly and precisely as the user moves and changes their field of view. 

The potential applications for AR in construction are many. In addition to its visualization capabilities, AR can help teams complete tasks or workflows more efficiently than traditional methods or applications. Here are three popular ways AR is being used to streamline workflows.

 

Civil engineering and construction

AR allows you to review the design and visualize the data from your records while in the field. You can share critical project data with workers, like the locations of underground services and utilities. By seeing these hazards as 3D models overlaying the actual environment, your workers are able to better understand and recognize their locations so they can safely navigate the jobsite.

AR can be used by managers and crews to help plan site logistics and coordinate the work, including creating traffic management plans, identifying heavy equipment work zones, and recording as-built locations of buildings and services. During construction with the most advanced AR systems, you can now design in the field, visualizing in real time, using AR for temporary works and send directly to earthmoving equipment for construction. Some AR systems also allow you to check grade and measure progress in an AR view to visualize the information in context.
 

Benefits of Augmented Reality

 

Building construction and operation

For new builds, you can use AR to interpret the design in the context of the site, including the placement of structural elements and MEP systems. By helping you visualize how these systems will be positioned relative to the structure and adjacent systems, AR also helps you ensure that prefabricated MEP components will fit with the other as-constructed elements of the building. During installation, some AR tools can be used for sequencing, giving workers the ability to see each of the steps involved in constructing complex systems.

For existing buildings, AR has a place as well. Some AR tools can be used by MEP teams, for example, to “see” through floors and walls to understand how and where equipment has been installed, comparing the reality of the completed work to the documented design. After construction is complete, AR can again be used to capture as-builts that aid in ongoing building operation, management, and maintenance.

 

Inspections

Inspections are typically a time-consuming process requiring more than one person onsite referring to drawings and manually documenting and sharing information with others. AR tools cut down on the time and cost of inspections by allowing each inspector to move around the site while the tool tracks their location.

Some AR tools give inspectors the ability to align and compare actual work with the model, document data, identify discrepancies, and share visual representations of problems and areas of concern with the contractor or project owner. By making it possible to easily share field data with the office and keep all project information connected, AR facilitates faster decision making and problem resolution, while also reducing the need for more extensive rework later on.
 

Benefits of Augmented Reality

 

Augmented Reality: Easier to Adopt than You May Realize

You may be surprised to learn that AR is an easy-to-adopt technology that requires minimal training. Because AR works off of smartphones and other mobile devices that many people use in their everyday lives, workers will already be familiar and comfortable with some of its basic functions, such as capturing and looking at images, finding locations, and sharing information.

Trimble SiteVision is an AR system that combines a smartphone with a hand-held integrated positioning system that uses GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) to identify the user’s exact location. A rangefinder measures the distance from remote points to the AR model on the smartphone. And sensors pick up any changes in the user’s motion or field of view, adapting the 3D model on the screen to what the user is seeing.

If you think about AR as comparable to a new smartphone app, implementing it into your construction processes feels less daunting since many people are already comfortable with learning and using new apps on their mobile devices. By applying this mindset to AR in construction, you can shorten the learning curve and instill more confidence in your teams who are gearing up to apply the technology to their workflows.

 

Assessing Your Readiness for Augmented Reality

Even though AR is relatively easy to adopt, it’s still a good idea to assess your organization’s overall readiness for the technology. Here are three questions to consider:

 

Are most employees in your workforce already using technology in some capacity?

Young workers tend to be comfortable with learning and using any new technology. But you may be worried about veteran workers with less tolerance for, or experience of, advanced technology. They’ll be less resistant to adopting a new tool if they’re already using technology such as smartphones, computers, other mobile devices, or software apps at work or in their daily lives. And they’ll be more likely to experience a smooth introduction to and adoption of AR.

 

Are you fully maximizing your BIM investments?

Investing in BIM is a big undertaking, yet it may only be used in the planning phase and missing an opportunity to use it to its full advantage. While 3D modeling is beneficial to designers, architects, and engineers during pre-construction, its applications don’t end there. The greatest value from the BIM models is in the construction phase. AR lets you bring the power of 3D data sets onto the worksite, sharing the same constructible model for visualization and inspection in AR that you use for your machine control and guidance of earthmoving equipment. You’re able to extend BIM data to the field to improve construction workflows and get the most from your BIM investment.
 

Benefits of Augmented Reality

 

Is your workforce approaching retirement, requiring you to recruit new employees?

The next generation of workers expects to use the latest and best technology for the job. They’ll be seeking out companies who offer these opportunities and have made an investment in the technology required to do so. The use of AR is one way to demonstrate to younger workers that your organization is committed to continuous improvement, making gains in productivity, and giving its employees the best opportunities to stay current, grow, and succeed.
 

Are your competitors already using some form of extended reality technology?

Construction companies, while traditionally slow to embrace technology, are facing a growing need to adapt or risk losing relevance. Your competitors know this, too, and they may already be using AR or other XR technologies to improve productivity, increase profitability, and attract new talent. Now’s the perfect time to assess where you stand among the competition and consider how AR can help you maintain or gain a competitive edge.

By understanding the capabilities of your current workforce, the expectations of the next generation, how well you’re utilizing BIM, and how well-positioned you are among your competition, you’ll have the information you need to determine how important AR could be to your company’s future. 

 

Your Future Is Now: Make AR Your Reality

Augmented reality and its sister technologies VR and MR have been in use for years across a number of industries, and are increasingly becoming impossible-to-ignore tools for the construction industry as well. These intuitive technologies provide a perfect entry point for the construction industry to increase technology adoption and realize the return on investment they can deliver.

AR technology is helping AEC professionals like you:

  • Visualize projects and achieve a shared understanding of design intent
  • Improve communication and collaboration internally and externally
  • More effectively plan and complete work
  • Safely navigate job sites and deliver training
  • Increase productivity and project delivery

Being able to view a detailed model in realistic detail and in its physical context has enormous advantages for construction professionals across a range of disciplines and specialties. AR increases your ability to visualize, understand, and efficiently complete construction projects in ways that have never been achievable before. Internal and external stakeholders alike can engage with the project in more effective and meaningful ways, helping to ensure successful outcomes. 

 

To learn how other construction professionals are using AR to their advantage, read the article.