Whitepaper: Virtual Reality and the Construction Sector
Virtual Reality (VR) is a new technology, one that has been growing in prominence now for a number of years. For many people it represents the opportunity for a better gaming experience or getting more from entertainment. However, its use as a tool in the business world is now much more widespread. At the heart of VR is the idea that a realistic experience can be delivered to a consumer. In the context of the construction industry this kind of tool could have a big impact. In this whitepaper we will look at how VR technology is starting to work its way into construction, the benefits that it offers and what kind potential it has for construction sector businesses.
What is VR and how does it actually work?
VR essentially creates the opportunity to interact with something within a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment. Many of us are familiar with it in terms of the gaming world but its use is getting much more widespread. The nuts and bolts of the technology are that two different angles are used to engineer a 3D effect. With these two angles together, both the view and the depth perception of an environment can be accurately recreated in 3D. So the human brain sees this accurate representation just as it would as if it were there in real life.
In the construction sector VR can provide a physical representation of a future finished project or of a site at any stage during the construction process. So, for example drones and cameras can be used to scan and image a building site. This is then loaded into the computer-generated environment and, with the use of a VR headset, a client or construction manager can then ‘walk around’ the site, explore and investigate.
Virtual reality for a very real industry
Construction is probably one of the must IRL (in real life) industries in the whole of the economy. A lot of the work involved is physical and the product is very tangible. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a role for technology in helping to make the processes behind that final product more efficient and effective. But where does the construction industry meet the VR world?
What are the benefits of VR for the construction industry?
- Simplifying viability – demonstrating viability is an important part of the project process. This is something that has traditionally been left to human judgment, combined with scale models. However, the accuracy of using scale models depends on the person making them and they can be time consuming and expensive to create. So, a major benefit of VR is the way that viability can be tested in advance and at a far reduced cost.
- Accuracy and inclusivity – accuracy is crucial to project planning and can be fatally expensive if it’s not achieved. VR makes it easier to be accurate and to take into account all the environmental factors at play. As a result, error is reduced considerably and what is presented at the start of the project is far closer to the end result than using any other method.
- The ability to fine tune – VR delivers the benefit of hindsight. With the use of VR, everyone involved in the project has the opportunity to inspect an accurate version of the finished project before it has even begun. The customer, as well as everyone working on the project, can use VR to walk around and explore the project at any stage in its process. This provides a crucial opportunity to make small adjustments and fine tune details that could otherwise have been incredibly expensive to change once the build was complete.
- Transparency – the end results are there on screen (via the VR headset) so there can be no problem with misunderstanding or miscommunication. Customers can give feedback right away, before any money has been spent, and changes can be implemented before they have become issues.
- Avoiding obstacles – sometimes problems only become obvious once the project has already gotten under way. Making changes can be costly and can create big issues when it comes to timing and delivery. VR makes it much easier to identify what those obstacles might be and to prepare for them well in advance of any issue. So, for example it may not be obvious until everyone is on site that a piece of machinery required for work inside a particular space won’t actually fit through the entrance to that space. Or spaces might be too narrow for the construction workers who need to get in there too work. Everything, from logistics to safety, is upgraded and can be better prepared for by incorporating VR into the process.
Why are the most successful construction firms now using VR?
Visualisation is one of the key elements of VR and that’s often an obstacle for construction projects. The costs and time involved mean that everyone needs to be on the same page from the very beginning of a project or collaboration – which can be difficult to do without a visual guide to what’s about to be undertaken. Today, the most successful construction firms are already finding huge benefits in using VR to overcome these obstacles and deliver better results.
VR is an upgrade to the physical scale model. Using VR instead of a traditional mock up produces a much more accurate result that gives a clearer idea of outcomes. Not only will it look more engaging and realistic but using VR allows the incorporation of real dimensions and different design elements.
VR provides a quicker route to a meeting of minds. It’s much faster to create a VR of the aims of a construction project than to go through the process of trying to construct something physical. And, as it’s quicker and doesn’t involve physical materials, it’s often more cost effective too.
Highlighting inconsistencies. With VR, due to the accuracy of the work involved, inconsistencies tend to be highlighted at a much earlier stage. Design issues can be identified and dealt with much more quickly.
Ruling out a miscommunication. Clients need to be involved in the project from the very beginning if the end result is going to be a positive one for everyone. Whether you’re creating retail space, living quarters or commercial buildings that crucial communication is at the heart of project success. Using VR technology enables everything to be hashed out and worked through before any resources have been used. Changes can be visualised and agreed 100%, improving overall satisfaction and reducing the costs and timing issues that can arise from a miscommunication.
Cutting costs. Efficiency is crucial for every construction business these days and VR has a lot to offer firms who are looking to create more room for manoeuvre. Actual costs can be reduced and consequent costs – such as those that arise as a result of mistakes or client unhappiness – can also be avoided. Why? Well the big advantage of VR is that it allows a full and finished picture of the project to be presented accurately to the client before any resources have been spent. Any firm that has been forced to write off the costs that arise from miscommunication or misconception in the past will know just how valuable that really is.
Creating the opportunity for better client service. VR feeds into many different parts of the construction industry. Design is more accurate, planning is better organised, timelines are more achievable and costs are kept low. All of this together means that clients get far better service thanks to the insights VR provides to the construction firm. For most clients the two key interconnected areas of concern when it comes to their projects are “will the project deliver on time?” and “will it come in on budget?” The most successful construction firms are incorporating VR into their processes because it provides the opportunity to say a much more definitive yes to both of these questions.
VR is a technology of the future and governments all over the world have been keen to be the first to use it to help make economies and industries more effective and efficient. In the UK, this autumn the AWE Consortium, or Atomic Weapons Establishment was awarded £1 million of funding for the purpose of developing and advancing the use or VR/AR technology for the construction industry. This is a big step for the UK and could be an important one in terms of generating potential for the construction sector. The benefits of this investment could be widespread across the industry.
Why is the government choosing to invest in VR and AR technology?
We’ve already looked at the benefits that VR has for those within the construction industry. When it comes to government investment there is an element of being able to better facilitate those benefits by making VR technology more readily available to the industry. However, there are also other reasons why this kind of innovation appeals to governments looking to give industry a boost.
The opportunity for greater industry safety
Safety is a big concern for those in the construction industry and also for the government that monitors and regulates it. Anything that can make conditions safer and more predictable is viewed as a solid investment – and for good reason. VR gives construction project managers invaluable insight when it comes to worker safety. The benefits of being able to stand in a project and walk around it before it has begun apply not just to design and cost but also to safety. It is far easier to anticipate potential safety problems by using VR technology – and, once the problems have been identified, they can be dealt with in advance.
Contributing to better risk management
The opportunity to make the industry safer is just one way in which VR gives the construction industry greater risk management powers. This element is appealing to governments looking to ensure that industry is not only safer but also more effective and profitable. In the UK this is particularly the case, as the UK construction industry contributes significantly to the UK economy. It is a big employer and trainer for graduates and younger people and so if it is thriving then this will have a knock on effect on the wider economy too. So, it makes sense for the government to invest in VR technology, to enable greater risk management across the board, from safety risks through to potential financial risks that could arise from mistakes or lack of insight.
Promoting the UK construction industry as cutting edge
Given that the construction industry is so important to the UK economy, there are many benefits for the government in giving it the tools to become one of the most advanced in the world. Cutting edge technology such as VR has lots of benefits for individual businesses and that, overall, can produce a much better functioning industry. This contributes to the positive perception of the UK as a centre for construction expertise and advanced techniques that are used to create a more effective process and a more efficient industry.
What does the future of VR look like in construction?
Technology is a big driver in the construction industry right now. It is enabling businesses to cut costs and deliver better value for clients and customers – and, as a result, the range of construction-appropriate technology is increasing and diversifying by the day. Five years ago, the idea of using VR to walk a client around the finished result of a potential project when the first brick hadn’t even been laid would have seemed bizarre. Today, the range of benefits that VR has to offer make it a given that uptake across the industry will be broad.
Today VR is still a relatively new technology for construction. As a result, it’s still somewhat at the testing stage and isn’t yet incorporated into the infrastructure of every project. That represents a big opportunity for those who want to be early adopters to start enjoying the benefits of VR and what it can do for the business in terms of transparency communication, cost cutting and efficiency. But what about the years to come – where will VR impact over the coming decade?
- Replacing traditional modeling – VR could potentially completely replace the traditional modeling options for working out whether a project is viable or not.
- Increasing the range of modeling options – at very little additional cost VR can be used to model projects at almost every stage, and at multiple stages. The potential that this provides for avoiding obstacles and reducing mistakes is considerable.
- Optimising health and safety – accidents or incidents could often be avoided with the benefit of hindsight. In many ways, VR delivers that hindsight, presenting a finished project that can be explored for potential stumbling blocks way before they occur. This could involve the way that access and walkways are created throughout the site, for example. It could also be something as simple as working out where the safest places are for tools to be stored.
- Advanced construction learning – the industry is always adding new layers to best practice and sector knowledge on the back of completed projects and problems overcome. VR has enormous potential for learning and enabling the industry to expand at a much faster pace. The level of detail that VR offers, as well as the exploration and learning that is available before construction even begins, could change the data that is available quite significantly.
- Future communication – so much is invested into opening up communication channels and instigating more transparency in construction projects. Opaque processes and those that confuse or exclude are responsible for enormous wastes of resources and creating substantial delays. VR has the potential to revolutionise the way that construction businesses communicate with clients. Not only that but it could positively disrupt the way that each of those involved in the project communicate together. From architects, to designers and project managers, all the different perspectives can be aligned with VR thanks to the impact of having something so visual to work with. As a result, communication will be more open, effective and language barriers will be a thing of the past.
Anything is possible – right now, VR has been incorporated into the construction sector as a tool for visualisation of project sites and going forward through various stages of completion. However, it is a very new technology and one that will no doubt evolve and change at a fast pace. So, in terms of what VR could do for the construction industry of the future, anything is currently possible.
At RG Group we are keenly focused on the latest technology and construction techniques and the benefits they offer to ensuring our clients’ projects are delivered on time, on budget and to exceed their personal expectations.
Give us a call today on 01732 526 850 to find out how we might be able to help deliver your latest construction project.