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The XR field—which encompasses augmented, virtual and mixed reality—offers an incredible opportunity to create an advanced set of tools for today’s complex construction projects, from hospitals and dorms to advanced manufacturing plants and laboratories. 

While the merging of real-world environments with immersive alternate realities certainly has a wow factor, there is a disciplined process behind deciding why and how AR and VR are utilized in the AEC industry.

VR for Preconstruction

People experience the world in 3D, so why would they want to look at a 2D representation of a 3D model when a more immersive experience is possible through VR?

The truth is, most people aren’t trained to be able to interpret architectural and construction drawings. Donning a VR headset is a quick and easy way to explain what the 3D model says the actual building will look like. It’s a visual language everyone can understand. It’s also a good way to manage expectations and make design adjustments without affecting the budget and schedule.

One place contractors can utilize VR during preconstruction is operating rooms in health care facilities. Through a headset, doctors, nurses and staff can assess where everything from boom lighting to gas hookups and clocks will be placed, per the model, so they can suggest changes prior to installation. 

This exercise prevents rework, saving time and money and boosting efficiency in the field. Most importantly, it gives the building owner confidence in how the operating room will function in real life and lets doctors focus on what really matters: caring for patients. 

Of course, the benefits aren’t exclusive to health care. VR can be applied to projects in other construction segments as well, including higher education.

AR for Construction

Where AR can really make an impact is creating a single source of truth for the building, also called a “digital twin,” so the VDC, craft and operations teams can compare what has already been accomplished and what remains to be done. Keep in mind, a 3D model is the best-case scenario for how a building is intended to be built, but accommodations always end up being made based on what happens in the real world. For example, an industrial facility being renovated may have a dozen old storm drains that aren’t reflected in the drawings. The storm drains revealed in the field can be added to the 3D model—thus creating the digital twin—and then AR can be used to conceptualize what the facility will look like in later stages of the renovation. 

Or for new construction of a laboratory, AR can be used during the structural phase to visualize how the MEP will fit into the space. Sometimes a model generates ceiling clearances so that the MEP systems within can be serviced, but the openings aren’t actually large enough to fit an average person. With AR, it’s possible to double-check that what’s in the model can be functional in the real world. 

What’s Next?

Even more exciting is what’s ahead as cost becomes less of an obstacle and digital design tools previously exclusive to the gaming market permeate other industries like construction. As this transition continues, technologies will blend together (e.g., headsets and smartphones becoming an all-encompassing device), as well as the merging of AR and VR within a single headset so users can go back and forth between both realities.

In the not-so-distant future, tape measures will be obsolete as measurements are done via AR. As for a doctor checking out the operating room design, he or she will be able to change an element in the model through a simple hand gesture. Already, a VDC manager can update the model as the person wearing the headset recommends changes, and that new version automatically syncs with the virtual reality being displayed. 

Incremental advancements like this make the XR field so rewarding. There’s always something new to learn or a different way to apply technology to the building process. 

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