Workers imagining construction in augmented reality.

How The Construction Industry Is Using VR/AR/MR/XR

Technology is constantly evolving, and for the construction business, it’s bringing with it an era of fundamental change.

VR, AR and MR technology have the potential to change how large-scale construction projects are realised. Immersing workers in a virtual environment is streamlining projects large and small and is aiding teams across every phase of the typical Project Information Model (PIM). Virtual Reality is enabling design teams to plan, review designs and work with stakeholders to minimise the potential impact of complex and delicate schemes. Meanwhile, similar technology is used in depots and trade schools to train workers to operate dangerous machinery and plan site safety. Even on-site, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality is providing a springboard to a new era of efficiency. Remote tech and wearables are enabling crews in the field to access and understand design details in real-time, visualise and work around existing power infrastructure and minimise mistakes and errors that slow completion and tax budgets.

VR/AR/MR/XR tech is already revolutionising the construction industry and solving many problems associated with complex and time-consuming projects. Construction simulation increases outcome success by showing the final output before even a shovel is lifted, helping teams plan more confidently and accurately at the start of a project and facilitating deeper levels of collaboration throughout a build. For the first time, stakeholders can stay involved as works are completed and can visualise, explore and update plans in real-time and under site conditions.  Not only are these new techniques reducing the substantial financial costs usually involved in construction, but they’re also helping the whole industry to use resources more wisely, eliminate waste and reduce the environmental impact of large projects.

All this just scratches the surface. In this article, I’ll take a closer look at the benefits of XR and explore, in detail, the differences between VR, AR and MR and the way that they’re poised to transform the construction business as we know it.

Virtual Reality: More than Just Walk (or Fly) throughs

Builders and developers have long been unlocking the power of virtual reality to enhance their projects. A technology that immerses users in the digital world, permitting them to interact and experience imagined virtual structures in real time, its utility for an industry reliant on plans and models is clear. In fact, we at MXT have first-hand experience with how VR’s immersive user experiences and adaptability can make all the difference when it comes to communicating the complexity and impact of a project to prospective clients and stakeholders; but that’s a monumental story for another time.

A powerful simulation tool, Virtual Reality technology can help developers in numerous ways. Software such as Yulio takes 3D designs, CAD renderings and even 360 photography and creates accurate and detailed VR models that stakeholders can use to visualise a project, giving architects, designers and potential homeowners a chance to explore buildings in a way that conveys a true sense of scale and impact. It also provides potential opportunities for contractors working later in the building process to get a leg up on the work. “I appreciate (VRs) application in helping to design and walking through proposed repairs to try and troubleshoot issues that may arise during construction,” Teris Pantazes, co-founder of homeowner and contractor network Efynch told “It’s a technology that can be used to make sure that a large bathtub fits the early-1900s townhouse or a heavy piece of equipment can manoeuvre a hillside to reach a backyard.”

However, Virtual Reality uses don’t just stop at walkthroughs and renderings of designs and plans. The same attributes that give stakeholders a chance to experience homes, landscape transformation and large infrastructure projects in the digital world can also help the people building it gain skills that improve their efficiency. For example, HS2, the UK’s new high-speed rail line connecting Birmingham with London, has been investing heavily in VR to train new operators. Working in partnership with civil engineers BAM Nuttall, a new training facility in Buckinghamshire is using state-of-the-art VR training simulators to take workers through their roles on the project, from learning to operate heavy machinery to understanding delivery processes and site safety.

Augmented Reality in Construction— Fuelling Collaboration (and fixing mistakes)

The construction industry has only begun to understand the benefits that AR/MR/XR can bring to the industry. More integrated into the day-to-day than VR technology, the rise of wearable tech and intelligent software is powering faster and more meaningful communications than ever before. Gone are the days when crews had to stop while a supervisor had to inspect the work. Through technology, architects and designers can talk directly with civil and structural engineers and collaborate directly. Teams can now work around and even spot problems as they arise: seamlessly examining redline boundaries, understanding the impact of large-scale construction tasks, and even visualising and working buried sewage and utility infrastructure in real-time.

One of the most potent applications for augmented reality is in the areas of accuracy and error detection. An industry that covers a wide variety of different but interrelated segments and disciplines, the building trade has always been a cooperative endeavour. However, as projects have become more complex and client demands have grown more demanding, more and more, the industry is looking to technology to improve productivity.

XYZ Reality’s ATOM headset is an excellent illustration of this process in action. Built into a specially modified hard hat, this technology allows site workers to place and view  3D models with millimetre accuracy. It enables architects and engineers to compare progress to superimposed plans and identify mistakes and errors before they become too expensive to correct. 

Ensuring that projects are completed on time, and within budget, Augmented Reality’s immediate benefits are obvious. However, AR’s true potential becomes apparent as it spreads and becomes the standard across the industry. Enabling the construction of public works and civil engineering projects in the most efficient methods possible, this technology not only reduces the financial cost of new buildings, but it also has the power to significantly reduce the material waste in construction, with a substantial potential knock-on benefit to supply chains and the environment.

Mixed Reality—Building Quicker and Slicker

Similar to AR, Mixed Reality or MR merges a real-world environment with a physical one. The real difference is that Mixed Reality is a much more integrated system, requiring specialised equipment to be integrated into workers’ kits. The results can be genuinely transformational: contractors can review and approve mission-critical designs by verifying the interaction and constructability of complex systems before they’re fabricated and installed. It also saves costs by helping to catch potential issues in the virtual world before something gets built, so contractors don’t have to rip things out and start again.

Even though it’s slightly more resource heavy than related AR tech, Mixed Reality has the potential to create work crews that work smarter. For example, sites with integrated MR systems allow project teams to identify clashes with installed systems, like electrical or plumbing, and bring them to the attention of designers and architects to help resolve the issue. In the real world, firms are deploying mixed reality tech to complete a vast range of projects, both large and small. From guiding workers through tricky renovations to the historic Lindisfarne Castle in Northern England to enabling PayneCrest to deliver electrical infrastructure on worksites across the USA, it is becoming the go-to technology for teams working on complex, delicate projects.

With this blending of virtual and augmented reality, MR allows workers to naturally interact with others in the room or space, making it an excellent collaborative tool. Currently, the availability of lightweight  MR headsets, such as Avegant’s Light Field and intuitive, user-first software, such as Trimble Connect or Sensat’s Digital Twin is making the tech portable enough to operate both on-site and in the back office. On the ground, these headsets allow site workers to know exactly what task to perform, with immediate feedback to identify clashes, mistakes or misalignments.

As digital technology continues transforming the construction industry, Mixed Reality, alongside AR and VR, will play a central role. As incredible as these services already are, it’s thrilling to think that we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible.

MXT have extensive experience in visualising and simulating large-scale infrastructure schemes and their landscape settings through AR/VR/MR. MXT can incorporate real-world existing data sets far beyond just visualisation, which creates a perfect virtual environment of the finished scheme. The benefit of this is experiencing the project impact before time, money and effort are expended.