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Virtual reality is fast becoming cheap, reliable and easy to use. The Oculus Quest made managing a VR headset as easy as managing a new desktop monitor or iPad, a sharp break from earlier systems that required an expensive computer and a cord, or tether—presenting a meaningful barrier to easily using, sharing or shipping headsets to where they are needed.

This new flexibility that Oculus and other standalone headsets provide means that virtual reality has the potential to solve real-world, everyday problems.

At the same time, after months of working remotely and virtually via Zoom and other platforms, industries across the economy, including construction, have discovered that by lowering the barriers to getting together, its winds up collaborating more, not less, than when everyone was in their own office.

Between the still-present need to social distance and the newfound appreciation for fast, ad hoc meetings that are as easy as pushing a button, the need to make virtual meetings and collaboration more productive and natural continues to grow. Solutions are emerging from providers such as Smartvid.io, StructionSite, Adept XR and others that provide various means of viewing the job site in full 360-degree video. These solutions bridge the gap between the presence of in-person meetings and the convenience of digital video connections.

Why 360-degree VR

360-degree video can be shot with an inexpensive consumer camera, or a range of more capable semi-pro and professional options, ranging from sub-$100 to the low thousands. The video that is produced is just a .mp4, the same file format a cellphone uses, and compatible with everything from YouTube to a computer’s player. However, the most impactful way to view 360-degree video is in a virtual reality context.

Two things make 360-degree VR a superior option for remote meetings: viewer perspective and viewer choice of what to focus on. Viewer perspective in a 360-degree video is unique—the viewer is the center of the action, not looking from the outside in. This means that wherever a team member is physically, they can feel like they are really there, and that perspective has a huge impact on engagement, understanding of what’s going on and the ability to communicate.

The second benefit of 360-degree VR is that the viewer can choose where to look. In any other video or remote site format, the person pointing the camera decides what viewers get to see. In 360, everything is captured, so managers can choose where to look. This matters for lots of real-world collaboration because managers can just look at different parts of the jobsite and pick out areas that are interesting.

Think of 360 in three main modes: a snapshot or still picture, a video and a live stream. The quality of live streams can depend on how good the Wi-Fi is, but today’s cameras can do a very good job of sending back high-quality video that shows the level of detail needed.

360-degree VR in the future

As headsets get cheaper, as bandwidth continues to get faster, and more and more software solutions leverage 360-degree images and video, the opportunities for construction managers will continue to grow. Consider three core opportunities:

  1. Architect visits. for many jobs, getting the design team to come to the job site can be difficult, at least as often as might be desired. 360-degree VR means that architects and designers can get a high impact experience of key areas of the job quickly and as easily as putting a headset on and connecting.
  2. Safety oversight. it can be difficult to really see everything going on, especially when every job site is looking to minimize the number of workers on site. 360-degree VR gives safety staff much easier, and therefore more frequent, access to locations.
  3. Owner visits. depending on the job, it can be beneficial for owners to check in more frequently. 360-degree VR makes this possible, especially at key moments when major work has been put in place.

360-degree video, images and streams continue to become more and more a part of how construction gets done, and there is no better way to get the most out of these streams than a virtual reality experience.

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