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The Augmented Reality Revolution


By Steve Smith

Retail giants, leading healthcare apps and school educators are beginning to explore augmented reality (AR), a technology that layers computer-generated enhancements atop an existing environment via portable or wearable devices. For these industries and others, AR adoption is still in its early stages — but not for long. For the construction sector in particular, AR offers a range of opportunities to help workers complete tasks as efficiently as possible and streamline the entire construction process. From initial planning and visualization, to execution of the work and the marketing of the finished product, AR will prove an essential tool to ultimately transform the construction industry for the better. Here are a few examples of how AR will impact the construction moving forward.

Exposing Existing Infrastructure

One major challenge construction workers face daily is the inability to see pipework and wires within existing infrastructure. While Underground Service Alert (USA) – a non-profit mutual benefit organization that links the excavation community and the owners of underground lines – provides insight into facilities and gives clearance to dig prior to construction activity to ensure that infrastructure is not disturbed, many companies don’t use it. What’s more, these markers are all too often incorrect, resulting in massive safety issues and high costs. AR technology can help reduce the problems inherent to this lack of visibility, since it is critical that workers see exactly what they will be building or drilling into before they even pick up their tools. Rather than going in blind and waiting for permission, AR empowers the construction worker to make real-time decisions without wasting time or resources. One example of this innovation is the DAQRI smart helmet, which allows workers to experience a 3D environment within any wall. By using this type of technology, overall safety, continuity of service and efficiency improves on site. 

Visualizing Impact of Projected Design

In addition to offering workers added insight into what is within the walls on-site, AR can also provide a visualization of each stage of the construction project by superimposing the design plans onto the existing space. 

In this same capacity, AR helps avoid much of the downtime on project that is due to waiting for inspectors to confirm if the next phase is doable. By projecting holographic images into the existing physical environment, the inspectors and contractors can quickly and accurately determine the potential impact of every screw, nail and bolt on the current design. Take the Microsoft Hololens, for instance. When one Rhode Island construction worker put the lens on, he saw that the steel frames he originally planned to order to support the walls were too long to fit the design. Since this issue was spotted ahead of time, the company was able to cut the frames shorter before any building even begun, saving them nearly $5,000. Clearly understanding the impact of a projected design proves critical in cutting costs, saving time and improving overall accuracy, and AR facilitates this end. 

Guiding Workers through Tasks

AR offers the ability to guide workers through every construction task, whether they’re onsite or not. The combination of AR and guided repair allows each step to be presented to the worker through annotated workflows and instructions superimposed on reality. This offers major efficiency advantages, allowing workers to focus fully on the task at hand, compared to a more traditional approach where they may need to constantly step away from their work to consult paper documentation, adversely impacting productivity.

Guided repair enables workers the advantage of guidance through tasks they’re less familiar with without the need to return for a second time or have another technician visit the site. In the event that the worker needs help on an ad hoc basis from a colleague, AR enables a remote expert to see the job through the eyes (or AR goggles) of the worker and annotate the view to give specific visual guidance. Before the availability of AR, projects typically had a foreman on site who was responsible for ensuring the plans were being interpreted correctly. With the help of AR technology, workers are provided with immediate access to the foreman’s expertise, avoiding interpretation errors and potential delays.

There are many benefits to using AR technology in the construction world including increased safety and productivity, reduced downtime and correct adherence to design to name just a few. As the construction sector continues on its quest for new ways to streamline processes, augmented reality and other innovations will step into a much larger and more impactful role.

Steve Smith is vice president of strategic verticals at ClickSoftware

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