Being a labour intensive industry, it is not surprising that the construction industry is one of the least digitised sectors globally. It lags behind other industries in adopting new digital innovations and technology, and as a result, construction labour productivity is often found wanting.
There exists an immediate need to invest in new technology and create tools that could cut costs, increase efficiencies, and ensure projects are completed on time.
AR Increasingly Gaining Traction
One technology that is increasingly getting attention within the construction sector is Augmented Reality (AR). While it is often paired with Virtual Reality (VR), these two technologies are not to be confused as each has its own unique uses.
Essentially, AR is a live, copied view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input.
While the technology has been used in video games for years, it is only recently making waves in the construction industry, offering immense opportunities to improve the project lifecycle.
According to a report by McKinsey, Goldman Sachs estimates AR and VR to grow into a $95 billion market by 2025. Though the strongest demand for the technologies currently comes from industries in the creative economy, it will find wider applications in industries as diverse as healthcare, education, the military and real estate over time.
One company who has invested in the technology is mainboard listed real estate solutions specialists Boustead Projects. In addition to AR, the company has also invested substantially in advanced capabilities including drone technology, integrated digital delivery and virtual reality.
“These initiatives are visibly advancing our real estate partnership credentials with global industry leaders and furthering our competitive edge,” said Thomas Chu, the company’s managing director in a 12 February media release.
With the help of advanced AR technology such as computer vision and object recognition, the information about the surrounding real world of the user becomes interactive and can be digitally manipulated. In AR, computer software derive real-world coordinates, independent from the camera or from camera images.
AR enables anyone to walk through a proposed building plan, compare it with the original drawn-up plan and propose changes. It could be useful for on-site personnel to see and interact with color-coded 3D versions of a project, and for the general public to visualize a construction project away from the job site.
Utilising AR for Design Analysis
Other than for visualization, AR can also be used for design analysis and to pick out potential design issues. By combining AR with 3D modelling software and building information modelling (BIM), architectural plans become more immersive and more accurate.
Companies will be able to depend on more detailed and interactive models of building projects which can result in better collaboration across the building construction project lifecycle. It will greatly benefit architects, design teams, project managers, engineers and building owners.
AR also allows teams to conduct walkthroughs of the entire project before it is executed, closely examining the details and components of the structure. This foresight can prevent unscheduled delays, reduce cost overruns, and identify any mistakes before they surface.
It fits the bill for constructability review by letting the architect and contractor collaborate on changes in design and construction due to constructability issues. It can even assist with prefabrication of building components.
AR Still Seeking Widespread Use
Despite its potential, AR adoption is still not widespread in the construction sector with several persistent issues.
Return of investment on these new technologies is often difficult to prove and it is a challenge to ensure that any new technology can be customised and applied across different kinds of projects of varying complexities and requirements.
Comfort and safety are also major concerns for a user wearing AR headsets for long working hours, especially at the construction site.
Furthermore, AR headsets usually need to be shielded from adverse weather, which is something that cannot be controlled at open-air jobsites.
AR equipment also often require stable and strong internet connection, and installing the necessary systems to support AR usage at jobsites may add extra costs to the entire project.
Time and considerable amount of money must also be spent to train and teach on-site personnel how to operate these devices and manipulate all the data available into their work processes to improve efficiency and safety.
All these factors could deter companies from adopting AR, especially those operating on limited budgets.
However, early adopters of AR are already finding their investment worthwhile and the industry is starting to see more companies investing in AR applications and wearables.
One possible method to encourage the adoption of these technologies is to identify existing technology or form new processes and applications that improve efficiencies and productivity, create safer working environments and make the construction industry more accessible, accountable and attractive to a millennial workforce.
And as the technology matures and becomes more affordable in the future, it will not be a surprise to see more companies utilising some aspects of AR in their construction projects.
Written by: Hairul Borhan