Augmented reality (AR), along with virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR), provides a method to deliver information to users that places them in the context of digital content, and are all parts of what is coming to be known as extended reality (XR). In a small sense, you are probably already familiar with a form of AR, in the haptic feedback used to replicate button clicks and other sensory feedback in newer smartphones.
In construction, AR is most commonly used to display digital building information modeling (BIM) content onsite, allowing users, designers, owners, and workers to see what a building will be like before and during construction. I recently had a chance to speak with several individuals about their different uses of AR in construction, how they apply it today, and what it will mean tomorrow.
Occupants, users, and the public
Sahar Fikouhi is the creator of the ARki smartphone app, which provides a development platform for viewing digital content in real locations. Trained as an architect, Fikouhi came to app development through gaming, and indeed the ARki app uses a gaming engine, as do most AR apps in the design and construction space, to make models manageable and easy to navigate.
As Fikouhi explains, “It was an easy transition to take my architectural background into the AR space, using it to experiment with what could be achieved with this technology and its spatial nature.” The blog on Fikouhi’s website, darfdesign.com, bridges the wide range of her interests and shows what her architectural consulting work brings to the firm’s work on the app.
“That experimentation and my background helped me appreciate what designers face when they use AR.” ARki is designed from the start as a platform to allow flexible use of AR to express AEC ideas and inspiration.
Fikouhi concludes by saying, “My vision for ARki is to allow designers and artists to start using it for prototyping, but also to share new experiences with building users and the broader community.” There is a definite sense of optimism about her plans to open the door to AR use to communicate, provide enhanced public spaces, and affect physical design through an ever-shifting canvas of beauty that AR brings to the table.
In addition to this future-facing view, ARki has also been used to introduce design concepts for owner and community buy-in and fundraising, most recently for a large university owner in the United States.
Design and owner buy-in
AR firm Cviker also has a lot of experience providing design visualizations to drive owner and community understanding and visualization.
Like ARki, Cviker’s platform uses a simplified building model created with a gaming engine, and geolocates a shareable model in its actual planned location in full scale. Cviker can perform this transformation with very quick turnaround, as few as 2 hours.
Cviker grew out of co-founders Jan Hroncak and Martin Rapos’ experience with Hroncak’s VR gaming bar in their hometown in Slovakia. Due to this experience and the success of the gaming bar, their mayor reached out to get their participation in some planned local infrastructure work. This project won them a competition sponsored by the Slovakian government and provided the seed money to start Cviker in the United States. It’s been nonstop growth ever since.
Though many think of headsets when they think of VR, Cviker and ARki have built their AR models with the intent that the primary viewing device will be an iPhone or iPad.
This less expensive hardware needed to view the AR models has made the technology a real game changer for public planning. “I always tell people that the highest intrinsic value that Cviker brings,” says Karson Kopecky, Cviker project manager, “is community engagement and removing fear of the unknown.” The Cviker process also allows for occlusion of the digital model by existing physical structures, making realistic placement for that sort of understanding easier.
Cviker is equally excited about the future. The increased resolution and capabilities of new tablets and headsets alone have the capacity to increase access to the use of AR for a growing list of applications, not just visualization and collaboration, but also examination of traffic patterns and environmental effects on energy usage.
Rapos takes it one step further in his vision: Bridging the gap between public and private space, “I see the use of holographs everywhere without any gear in the next 10 years,” he says.
Use of AR on the jobsite requires a greater degree of accuracy than the visualization applications undertaken by ARki and Cviker. Martin Bros., a drywall subcontractor that has expanded to provide a broad array of construction services including sophisticated prefabrication and offsite construction services, has been experimenting with use of AR for some time.
Much of this work has been in research and development, but there has been an increase in the use of AR in projects where sophisticated subassemblies have made the utilization of traditional tools difficult. Unfortunately, the contracts for these projects have made it impossible to share more information.
Even so, Nikolai Suvorov, COO of Spectar, Martin Bros. software partner, was able to provide some general information about the work they are doing. “We are installing prefabricated panels from a ceiling hung from Unistrut and a turnbuckle in a spherical shape interior. There are 2100 plus turnbuckles that are all at different elevations. Use of AR has cut installation time by a factor of 10.”
Martin Bros. achieves the required level of increased accuracy not through use of GIS as the above applications, but by use of their Spectar software with a Microsoft Hololens. According to Suvorov, “Based on our studies, we can achieve greater than [19-mm] 3/4-in. accuracy 66 percent of the time, well within the level of accuracy needed for most, although not all, use in construction.”
Suvorov goes on to say that “the biggest challenge to adoption of AR in construction is trust in the device and the model.” Despite this reticence, use of the device tends to sell itself. “Once they put the Hololens on, they are usually a believer.”
What else is coming?
The opportunities for growth in use of AR go well beyond those mentioned here. Things like management of construction schedules and work being performed onsite, design collaboration between building and landscape designers, and expanded viewing of the effect of new construction on a neighborhood are all areas ripe for additional innovation. The optimism of these practitioners and others is warranted.
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