JULY FOCUS: TECH IN CONSTRUCTION
Virtual and augmented reality are taking construction to a new level of sophistication as more general contractors offer virtual design and construction services and provide project owners a chance to tour their buildings via a headset.
Monica Emmons, BIM manager for Fortis Construction Inc., said the evolution from 2D to 3D in design and construction has resulted in an immersive experience through virtual reality that is more user friendly than in the past.
"There is a lot of hype around those kinds of tools, and we're seeing a lot of promise with that kind of technology and getting buy-in from shareholders," she said. "We're getting a lot more direct feedback on a different level of detail."
For its clients in the medical sector, Fortis is able to present plans to large user groups who perform redundant tasks throughout the day. The medical providers give feedback on where equipment and supplies are located and how high they are in relation to body ergonomics, while maintenance and facilities staff can comment on how easy it is to access a building's operating systems.
The cost of the technology has decreased and made it more accessible, Emmons pointed out. And the improved ease of use means older generations of project owners and user groups don't need to rely on younger, more tech savvy individuals to use it.
"Someone can put on a headset, and you don't have to teach them how the controls work and where to push the button," she said. "They can just walk around the space or turn their head to view a particular area, and it's really user friendly."
Herb Yamamoto, founder and CEO of BIM Connection, said virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are increasingly benefiting building owners and their project teams in several ways. VR allows the A/E/C community to visualize a design concept, particularly from an architectural perspective, and allows design teams to share information amongst themselves and with building owners.
"In some projects, you can literally walk through the foyer of a building or other key areas of a structure, and the owner can have a 3D experience and see that things are spatially accurate," he said.
Yamamoto pointed to examples he has learned about recently, including a hospital that used the technology to incorporate a meeting room that was soundproof so staff meetings didn't disturb patients but staff could still monitor patients through the glass walls.
Another example involved a design team that was working on a prison project. "The team was able to visually walk through a 3D model and pick up on certain blind spots that would not be apparent with a 2D drawing," he said, adding the technology is also more affordable and accessible than before.
"I think it's become more affordable because the major providers of these design tools are making these solutions available in the cloud so you can load your 3D design models and then walk through them," Yamamoto said.
He said AR is more closely related to the work he does with mechanical and plumbing systems. Similar to VR, people wear goggles that allow them to see the structures on a job site. AR also gives people the ability to overlay systems that will be installed on existing conditions. As an example, AR can show what an HVAC duct system will look like before it is hung or where plumbing systems should be installed on a job site.
"From a building owner's perspective, I believe this will be very useful because it will give the owners and also the maintenance team a vision of what it will look like once it's been installed," Yamamoto said, adding the technology can help improve collaboration and communication between design teams and maintenance teams.
He pointed out that as the goggle technology continues to advance, it will be refined to be able to pinpoint locations where a project team needs to core out or drill an opening for a pipe or pipe hanger.
VR and AR, along with other construction technology advances, will take center stage during the Oregon-Columbia chapter of the Associated General Contractors' summer conference in August in Sunriver.