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The Power of Augmented Reality (AR) in Construction

How is augmented reality used in BIM processes?

Augmented reality is an emerging technology that integrates artificially produced information into the real world offering many advantages for designers, contractors and clients in the construction and BIM sectors

The use of augmented reality (AR) is gaining ground in various sectors: entertainment, tourism, medicine and surgery, the construction industry (AEC), etc. If you are a construction professional or are involved in BIM, in this insight you can get hold of the many advantages of augmented reality for your work.

In fact, by combining data-rich 3D models and real-world sites, AR in the AEC industry enables teams to connect and collaborate at every phase of design and construction, improving site safety and accelerating the building processes.

What is AR in the construction industry?

Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that allows virtual elements to be superimposed onto our vision of reality.

What’s more, augmented reality can be integrated with mobile applications enabling users to access it on smartphones or tablets. The system may comprise an image capturing device or smartphone framing an existing object and displaying a series of information associated with it: videos, images, 3D models, information cards, etc

This principle is known as overlay and generates a new level of communication that implements the amount of data relating to a given object.

In architecture, engineering, and construction, augmented reality is the integration of digital 3D models with real-world building sites, or better, it is the overlay of 3D digital building or building component models embedded with data onto real-world sites.

This unique technology increases accuracy and efficiency by reducing errors relating to the management of time, costs and resources in general.

There are several applications that augmented reality offers to the construction industry, let’s find out more.

The use of Augmented Reality in BIM and the construction industry

As already mentioned, augmented reality is a relatively new technology that virtually transports computer-generated objects into the real physical environment by means of specific applications or software, headsets (HMDs), visors and other smart devices.

How is augmented reality used in BIM processes?

Augmented reality and BIM

AR allows a team to collectively experience BIM data interwoven with the built environment. This technology has been adopted by designers, engineers and builders opening up far-reaching opportunities for the construction industry. In particular with reference to:

  • presenting a project to clients – the project model can be viewed in all its details so that stakeholders can gain a better understanding of the project. AR can also be used to show 3D models and even provide virtual tours, providing clients with an effective idea of the building in its real context, way before its construction;
  • collaborating with other professionals – it simplifies online collaboration by allowing teams to share 3D images and videos with team members who are not on site. Thanks to augmented reality, stakeholders can view images or videos in more detail and identify errors or issues even if they are not on site;
  • project planning – offers the ability to view and understand the project building in depth and realistically. Augmented reality in construction can be used already in the early stages of design, showing the final product at a very detailed level and also providing information on the impact the work will have on the environment and the social fabric in which it will be embedded. Designers and contractors can show functional and realistic models to their clients and all decisions will be more informed, leaving no room for changes during construction;
  • measuring accurately – augmented reality devices (viewers, smart glasses, etc.) have functionalities that allow measuring the physical elements of a space (depth, height and width). By integrating BIM with augmented reality, companies and professionals can use 3D models to precisely determine the dimensions of project elements and realistically view all the solutions they are working on;
  • on-site review – offers the ability to preview the design, directly on site, before materials are ordered and work begins. On-site review allows you to uncover any inconsistencies in the design and prevent wasted resources and delivery delays by quickly adapting the BIM model to new regulations;
  • safety and inspection – improves safety in the workplace through specific AR devices (such as glasses or mobile devices) that scan tags or labels placed in specific areas or objects. These tags can bring up information cards or even 3D models to communicate safety information or possible risks to workers;
  • underground construction and renovation – during demolition or excavation operations, there is always the risk of unintentionally hitting a gas line, drainage pipes, underground utilities, etc. A wrong blow from an excavator can cause damage, breakdowns or even explosions. The use of AR allows users to virtually visualise the exact position of cables and pipes that are not visible to the naked eye and avoid possible problems;
  • training – workers can receive direct instruction on the use of new machinery or complex equipment in an intuitive, practical and effective way, reducing training costs and operator downtime. In this way, workers can see equipment in action before using it. In addition, dangerous materials or situations can be shown without exposing team members to a real risk;
  • cost savings – increases labour productivity, reduces costs and improves safety throughout the project’s life cycle.

AR vs VR

Similar to what AR may offer, virtual reality (VR) creates completely immersive virtual environments.

Although they are often confused for their ability to create a kind of ‘bridge’ between the physical and digital worlds, there are many differences.

Basically, AR uses a real-world setting while VR is completely virtual and puts a user into isolated reality. In a nutshell, VR replaces reality, taking you somewhere else. AR adds to reality, projecting information on top of what you’re already seeing.

VR implies a technology capable of transporting us into a reality different from the one we experience, thanks to the use of special devices such as visors and controllers.

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Virtual reality in BIM

Everything we see is computer generated and wraps us in 360 degrees in an immersive experience where we can also interact with surrounding objects, moving or modifying them.

With VR we can explore the universe, drive a car that has not yet been released, visit a house that has not yet been built, carry out exercises in safety, operate a new piece of machinery, be catapulted into ancient Egypt, etc.

In short, virtual reality provides a fully immersive experience in a computer-generated digital reality.

If you are interested in using virtual reality to support the design and presentation of your projects to clients, we recommend :