The ability to push real-time BIM data to the field and ensure office and field teams are working from the same model has the power to transform longstanding construction workflows. But what is the actual rate of adoption of AR technology and what technical barriers still exist? We asked a top contractor to weigh in.
Augmented reality is continuing to prove its productivity value across industries. Between 2019 and 2020, global spending on augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology grew by 78.5%, and the AR market is expected to reach over $50B by 2024.
In the construction industry, more contractors are realizing the potential benefits of AR for project visualization and enhanced collaboration. A recent survey suggests that AR and VR technology for the architecture, engineering and construction industry will see its most significant growth over the next 5–10 years.
The ability to push real-time BIM data to the field and ensure office and field teams are working from the same model has the power to transform longstanding construction workflows. But what’s the actual state of adoption of AR technology and what technical barriers still exist? We recently spoke with Christopher Rippingham, a member of the Technology and Innovation Leadership team at DPR Construction, an ENR Top 10 Contractor, to gather his perspective on the integration of AR and other advanced technology solutions into the project lifecycle.
Unity: How has DPR been leveraging augmented reality technology and for how long? Has this technology been adopted company-wide, or is it by location or project type?
DPR: We have pockets of excellence but not necessarily enterprise-wide adoption. The biggest hurdle is that it is fairly complex to get AR to work correctly in a valuable way. We have done some interesting AR work with concrete to give our concrete teams real-time feedback. We’re also exploring some of the new helmets on the market to give people out in the field real-time information. We haven't seen much traction or adoption of that yet, and I think that’s because, as an industry, we haven’t contextualized the data that we have. We have these massive datasets, but the data doesn’t have individualized context – for a superintendent, a foreman or a field worker. So we’re going through a bigger data exercise right now to see if we can break down these larger datasets into more specific user sets that could be used for different applications.
Unity: Tell us more about bringing this technology to the field.
DPR: Our top talent is currently overwhelmed with new technologies. Democratizing the technology is going to be the biggest challenge.
Aligning a virtual environment with a built environment requires a lot of technical savvy. But in many cases, we simply want to display some sort of heads-up data onto a screen and contextualize it based on the room or location where a person is – that’s an application that’s easier to comprehend and to implement. The biggest barrier right now is the hardware – figuring out how to streamline the data so that it’s consumable in a smaller format screen rather than having to go through seven different menus to retrieve one document that may or may not be correct.
Unity: Is augmented reality difficult to adopt because it’s seen as supplementary? Is it difficult to integrate it seamlessly with your other tech?
DPR: It is more about the learning curve. A lot of the technology being brought into construction is still in the office, unfortunately. Every construction company has struggled with how to get that technology out in the field and into the hands of people actually building, where it becomes more powerful than anything we can do in the office. AR requires a bit more data preparation than some of the other field-based technologies that are in use. We’re making the transition. It’s just not a quick one.
Unity: “I want to get my data out to the field. – that’s a common theme among customers. How does the virtual design and construction (VDC) team benefit from getting their data into the field? What goals does the VDC team have when it comes to leveraging their data?
DPR: VDC is a rich dataset that’s data driven as opposed to document driven. In construction you often see data workflows versus document workflows. VDC feels like a data-centric workflow, whereas most things in construction are PDF-based – a document that is static at a point in time.
The second we can get away from documents – by using a data-centric workflow – more real-time information can be streamed into the field.
Unity: How is real-time data more valuable? What are the consequences of using static documents to share information?
DPR: It’s rework. If we’re building off of something that’s 15 minutes old, that 15 minutes can mean a difference of three feet on a wall. We will continue to develop these processes and figure out how to democratize some of our richest datasets so that somebody who doesn’t have advanced computer experience can access what they need when they need it, without having to dig. That’s how you empower them.
Unity: Pushing data to the field is clearly a priority. How does AR technology thread the office and field teams together? How much time is it really saving? What is the future state of your workflow?
DPR: There are several benefits. Computing power in the field is a little bit less than what it is in the office, so if we can get visual communication between the field and the office, that’s a powerful tool. When the field has a problem, the office can see what they’re looking at and vice versa. The office can also provide the field user with the data and the information that they need to correct the problem. It’s amazing how many people in construction don’t get to fully visualize what they are building. Give somebody the ability to visualize what they’re building and give them more ownership in the process, and you get higher quality.
Unity: How long will it be before we can prove the value of real-time 3D to construction teams and quickly deploy this technology?
DPR: Another two or three years, as the hardware catches up to display the data. If we can get to a point where we can structure our data in a more productive way so that it can be more easily consumed without requiring physical inputs, and if we can contextualize the information, I think it’ll take off. We need data sharing to become truly seamless.
Unity: The industry talks a lot about reducing rework and cutting costs with AR. Where is the major return on investment in this technology, from your perspective?
DPR: AR is more of a proactive technology – it’s going to prevent something from going wrong. You can look at it from a safety perspective. You can look at it from a work quality perspective. A painter can walk into a room and actually see the same color we’re seeing and ensure we select the right one, saving us potential rework. It’s the same thing with safety. If we can start training people on how to look for certain safety issues through AR, we could potentially save somebody’s life. You can’t put a value on that investment. I look at it from that perspective.
Founded in 1990, DPR Construction is a self-performing general contractor with a history of tackling complex and technical construction projects across healthcare, higher education, hospitality, and manufacturing using innovative design and technology solutions.
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