While mainstream virtual reality is currently perceived as a tool for video games and entertainment purposes, developers and construction experts are finding practical applications for the technology in their field. Implementing virtual reality in construction has opened several avenues for improving design, pitching projects, and enhancing training and safety. These aren't just ideas for the distant future – companies are implementing these ideas today to much success.
Design and pitching
No matter how accurate schematics or concept renderings are, there's no better way of perceiving how a project will turn out than an accurate, detailed virtual render viewed with virtual reality technology. Architects and designers are investing in virtual reality technology that assists them in getting the fine details just right by putting them in the room they're designing.
VR technology will help you and others envision how the project will work out. Yulio VR is a program that allows designers to turn their 3D designs into VR-compatible renderings that they can show collaborators and clients. It can sometimes be difficult to convey the scale and potential of a design, so virtually showing clients is much easier and accurate.
Woodhouse Workspace is an office design firm that uses VR technology to show clients potential office layouts and different ways to utilize their building's space. Keep in mind that implementing VR technology doesn't have to be expensive. While high-quality VR headsets can be hundreds of dollars, common mobile phones can be retrofitted to act as VR headsets, and a headset isn't always necessary to tour virtual spaces. A desktop interface, such as how Google Street View works, can be used to move around the virtual space.
Teris Pantazes, co-founder of homeowner and contractor network EFynch, said that as virtual and augmented reality tech becomes more refined and available, within five years it will be on almost every construction site and part of nearly every aspect of the process, no matter how small, like home repairs.
"As a construction veteran, I would appreciate the application in helping to design and walking through proposed repairs to try and troubleshoot issues that may arise during construction," Pantazes said. "I can see the technology being used to make sure that large bathtub fits [in] the early 1900s townhouse or a heavy piece of equipment can maneuver a hillside to reach a backyard."
It can also find use during construction, such as AR tech that allows workers to speak with someone offsite and remotely walk them through the site, he said. Currently, the industry getting the most use out of VR is real estate, which can give clients a firsthand view of their future home or commercial space before it's built.
"VR tours are proving very popular and highly effective, and will only continue to gain traction. They are currently occupying a high-end space within the real estate industry, offering the luxury of being able to view a property interest from anywhere in the world," said Daniel Cooke of VR production company Pebble Studios. "As production costs come down, this type of service will become far more common and eventually become the norm."
Cooke said that as the technology develops, it will become cheaper and more available as well as more advanced, so much so that it'll depict photo-real renderings and change how construction projects are pitched.
Safety and training
"VR, video learning and microlearning apps are beginning to be used in the construction industry to train more effectively than ever before," said Samantha B. Rego, communication and public relations manager of Vector Solutions. "In such high-risk environments, quality training is paramount to prepare workers, improving safety and leading to less accidents on the job."
Training and safety programs are being developed to make such training more accessible and safer for employees. CertifyMe.net, a forklift training, and certification company, has a VR training program that allows trainees to practice working the machinery in an easy and safe environment. It reduces the risk of injury and damage to equipment while allowing for trial-and-error practice.
"Workers in construction, especially equipment operators, require a lot of training, practical guidance, and information on industry rules and regulations before they can operate equipment," said Tom Wilkerson, owner and founder of CertifyMe.net. "Forklifts can be dangerous and cause about 100,000 injuries every year, and the main cause of forklift accidents were because operators weren't trained correctly."
Pantazes said VR training can be valuable for workers overseas and in rural places. "In a previous position, I helped to build wind parks. Often, we were in far-flung places (sub-Saharan Africa, Patagonia). Training was important, because you could train local guys without having to send them off to training for weeks on end away from their families. This aspect will have a great impact on rural areas in helping with career training."
It's easy to see how VR technology will improve the construction industry. While the technology is in development, the industry is still putting it to use. As VR finds its way to more construction sites, design firms and training companies, it will likely change the construction process forever.