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NEWS
news
From Brick and Mortar to Tech and Data
The potential of virtual reality in the construction industry
V
irtual reality is not a new
phenomenon. Yet, when we
think
of
virtual
reality
experiences, we still envisage
beautifully designed simulations of
space exploration or of other
extraordinary experiences. However,
as the technology becomes more
accessible, its applications are
becoming less novel and much more
practical. Here, Graham Munro,
technical support team leader at hand
tool specialist, Starrett, examines
how the construction industry is
employing virtual reality and what
this means for contractors.
Video games have always been the
poster child for virtual reality. But, you
don’t need to have mounds of
knowledge of the technology to imagine
how virtual environments can benefit an
array of different industries. Some
advertisers and online retailers have
already started implementing virtual
reality into their strategies, but the
technology has its advantages beyond
customer engagement.
Construction has evolved far beyond the
blueprints and paper processes of the
industry’s past. 3D CAD software has
already established itself as an integral
a part of architectural design and many
construction firms are taking this a step
further, by introducing Building
Information Modelling (BIM). This
intelligent process gives architects and
engineering professionals digital insight
to more effectively plan, design and
manage buildings and infrastructure.
BIM is all about the information. Rather
than simply creating an appealing 3D
model of the building, it collects data to
12
deliver
insight
on
architectural
improvements and data on how the
building will perform once construction
is complete. According to statistics
presented with the Governments
Industrial Strategy, the estimated
savings to UK construction through
widespread adoption of BIM is an
impressive £2 billion per year.
Alongside BIM, virtual reality can deliver
insights that regular 3D modelling
cannot. The process involves taking an
image of a 3D model to create a realistic
environment of the building in question.
Wearing a virtual reality headset,
building and engineering professionals
can virtually walk around the building or
construction site, allowing them to
interreact with the building space before
any foundations are laid.
IKEA has already launched a highdefinition, interactive showroom using
virtual reality, which provides customers
with an interactive view of how their
homes will look based on IKEA designs.
Larger construction projects can use this
same technology to ‘walk’ around their
construction sites, bringing an entirely
new meaning to a traditional jobsite
walk.
This immersion allows engineers and
building professionals to assess the
ergonomics of their floor plans,
identifying any potential risks and, from
a commercial perspective, showcase the
building to potential buyers. The
technology is already in use by several
large construction firms, but as the price
point of virtual reality continues to
reduce, it is now accessible to all.
Innovate UK is investing £1 million into
a civil engineering consortium to develop
an Augmented Worker System (AMS) to
prepare the industry’s uptake of virtual
reality technology. The system, which
has already been used on the Crossrail
project, will help to provide virtual reality
technology to improve construction
processes.
Crossrail’s virtual reality project created
two separate versions of the railway, one
real and one in virtual reality. Engineers
could visit a virtual version of the building
site whenever they wanted, from any
location. The virtual reality toolkit
implemented by Crossrail encouraged
engineers to leave comments for others
to review, encouraging collaborative
working to improve the production plan.
However, it is not only large construction
firms that need to be aware of this
technology. Contractors and small
building firms should also consider how
this technology will help them. The ability
to demonstrate a virtual outcome of
building projects may become an integral
part of the quoting process. What’s
more, virtual models of projects could be
used to train apprentices or test out new
methods of construction, electrical or
building work.
As the Government invests in
innovative technology for the industry,
we’re likely to witness a shift in the way
construction firms, engineering
professionals and independent
contractors view virtual reality
technology. No longer is it a novel
gimmick for advertising or a technical
enhancement to the gaming industry,
but a way to improve and enhance all
industries, including construction.
Reader Reply: 207036

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