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Building Blocks for VR in Construction



2016 was the year of Virtual Reality (VR). Adoption levels started to reflect the buzz created around the technology, with CCS Insight estimating that 11 million virtual and augmented reality devices were sold in 2016, and businesses began to appreciate its value outside of gaming and consumer applications. Research firm Tractica estimates a compound annual growth rate of 60% for enterprise spending on VR hardware and content from 2016 to 2021, up from $592.3M to $9.2Bn. This is around 35% higher than the firms estimate for consumer spending over the same period.

When we look at enterprise adoption, the construction industry is often referenced as an industry that can see value in integrating VR technology as an enterprise tool. This is primarily down to the widespread adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) which requires architects to model proposed building projects in 3D, prior to construction work commencing.

Although more traditional forms of 3D modelling are adequate for this purpose, VR can bring 2D drawings and renderings to life in a way that other methods cannot. Those involved in the development of a building are now able to interact with the design and are in a much better position to spot inaccuracies or introduce amendments than before.

We see a number of areas where VR could be used to deliver high ROI for the construction industry.

Efficiency

Creating a physical 3D model can be time consuming and can quickly become obsolete when dimensions of the plan change during the modelling process. A VR representation can be created in a fraction of the time, and when the groundwork is complete, the model can continuously be modified to reflect how the building changes. Given that during the construction phase decisions affecting the overall outcome of the building are made every day, this is a crucial benefit.

Another major benefit is the accuracy of the exterior and interior mapping that can be achieved. As VR apps can ingest and visualise complex datasets, the resulting map is geospatially accurate – down to a millimetre. This level of accuracy is almost impossible with physical models. A driving force behind BIM regulation was to provide building information for contractors, estate agents and eventually renters or buyers, so that informed decisions could be made in relation to renovations, selling the property and maintenance of faults.

A VR representation – or digital twin – of the building could house data related to every element within the finished property so that along the supply chain, information on dimensions, location and materials used could be viewed in an instant and within the context of the building.

The 2016 BIM report highlights that although 70% of respondents are using 3D models for their construction projects only 37% use the models from the start of a project to the very end, meaning for most BIM is restricted to the design stages. 30% produce a model that is software dependent and just 16% pass on a model to those responsible for the management of a building. Creating the model in a VR application could change this, as it can be updated in real time to reflect the day to day changes on a project and make it more accessible to other stakeholders.

Decision making

It’s very rare that a construction project reaches completion without a hitch along the way. Almost from the outset there are differences of opinion, from various stakeholders, that can result in costly delays. VR could be a helping hand in these situations, particularly when the issues raised come from lobbying bodies. Experiencing the proposed building project as a finished article, via a VR headset, could provide peace of mind, as well as providing an opportunity to give valuable feedback that could have a positive impact on the project, at a stage in the building process when feedback could be taken on board and implemented.

Try before you buy

The area of the construction industry that could most obviously experience the positive impact of VR is the residential market. For developers selling houses off plan, VR is a tool that could help them bring homes to life and enable them to offer potential buyers a differentiated customer experience. Unfortunately, when it comes to buying a house, ‘try before you buy’ is almost impossible, particularly when you may be purchasing the property before construction work has even begun. VR could bridge the gap between a 2D plan or mock images and the finished product.

Putting the customer first

In many instances VR technology can alter how the construction process progresses. Creating a digital twin of a physical environment, particularly large commercial buildings that will have a large footfall such as shopping centres, airports and stadiums, architects can simulate the customer journey and assess how the building will work in practical terms – are there enough toilets within walking distance?; will the layout of the space be intuitive to navigate?; and so forth. This could have a huge impact on the end customer experience and enable architects to anticipate issues before it’s too late to rectify them.

So what’s next?

We’re likely to see VR technology trickle into businesses, including those operating in the construction industry, in the same way that we witnessed consumer adoption steadily increase. As the technology continues to improve and the main players in the VR headset space (Oculus, HTC Vive, Sony PlayStation and OSVR) continue to innovate, VR will become more accessible and we’ll see software developers focus their efforts on building industry-specific tools.

By Faizaan Ghauri, CEO of WRLD

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