Augmented reality is the productivity solution in the AEC industry – and it has just landed.
It’s common to find Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality lumped together - after all they’re both cutting-edge reality-bending technologies that have captured our imagination.
Technologically speaking, this is justified: both are underpinned by computer generated 3D-imagery fused together with movement sensing hardware, and they both aim to create a believable illusion. However, once you explore the practical applications, the two present themselves as distinct technologies having specific use-cases each in their own right.
Virtual Reality is all about controlling the entire experience; its purpose is to trick you into believing what you see by taking advantage of our reliance on vision. This reliance, is best illustrated by the rubber hand illusion; once you assume what you’re seeing is real, your other senses tend to accommodate - and Virtual Reality too can be scarily immersive (expletives incoming, but I suppose justifiably so...). Limits of physical space don’t apply, as you freely explore an entire virtual world. But the real world and other people are replaced wholesale - and in VR you’re not just immersed, but completely cut off. You’re presented an alternative reality and that’s very useful for communicating a comprehensive vision.
Augmented Reality on the other hand is entirely established in the real world - building on top of it instead of substituting it. Maybe we should call it Assisted imagination instead? Coined the term! The point is that your senses remain rooted in the real world and the virtual elements are presented in tandem with it. Sense of scale and proportion are derived from your actual surroundings and are far more visceral than in VR - simply because you know they are real. The experience usually isn’t visually as realistic, but the ability to have a shared experience with others mitigates that in a curious way - seeing the same thing as others makes it more tangible.
It’s therefore interesting to note that while the case for Augmented Reality in AEC was made already 3 years ago, the adoption curve has favored VR: suffice to look at the “Best AR/VR solutions for the AEC industry in 2018” - a long list with not a single AR solution in it (and therefore it’s also the list for “The Best VR/Lawnmower solutions for the AEC industry”). The reasons are multiple, but mostly hardware limitations have made discovering practical use-cases for AR difficult.
Finally, that’s changing in a big way.
The introduction of Apple’s ARKit Augmented Reality platform turned 100s millions of phones and tablets overnight into relatively inexpensive Augmented Reality devices. This means, AR is here today, available for everyone and we’ve been working with leaders in the AEC industry to validate and refine practical use-cases for it. Here’s what we’ve discovered:
- AR is the tool for on-site communication
Teams of contractors are able to to get a shared understanding faster of what is being built using AR. Overlaying the BIM model on the built environment leaves less room for interpretation and ambiguity than using drawn 2D illustrations. Most importantly, it can be done together!
This is particularly useful for renovations and site planning purposes, showing how the work will progress over time.
- AR improves client pitches and communication
Instead of bringing a physical scale model, our customers are using Augmented Reality to show a virtual model in miniature scale using an iPad. And if needed, they can jump into 1:1 mode easily to give a sense of scale and proportion of any part of the model.
Equally, on-site, demonstrating how a new building will fit into its actual surroundings or the space in a renovation project will look once the walls are opened up, is extremely powerful; once anchored into reality, all of a sudden the model becomes very real.
- AR is about better ad-hoc decision-making
AR allows you to carry the entire building in your pocket and take it out when needed. Discussions between design teams benefit from being able to “check it in AR” very quickly, together, before making a final decision. It’s like on-demand inclusive lightweight VR. Again, coining terms like it’s going out of fashion.
- AR is about focus on the task at hand
As a conclusion, we’re seeing AR raising its head as a productivity-enhancing technology. Instead of trying to create a plausible virtual world, it’s always available to solve problems as they arise and remove ambiguity from the process. Give it a spin for yourself and download the composit viewer app to start integrating AR in your workflow.