Construction technology is now considerably more advanced than it was a decade ago. We have seen how improvements in building methods, and the introduction of Augmented Reality (AR) is taking construction to new heights by allowing teams to build with greater accuracy and minimize mistakes. According to research by GIRI1, eliminating errors could save the construction industry £10-25 billion annually, making AR a very attractive investment. Various apps, accessible through smart devices, and digital tools, are now available to construction professionals and are being used on complex projects like data centers2 to build it right, first time.
Through extensive R&D, AR is also now available for construction in the form of specially designed hardware. AR-enabled devices have moved away from tablets and smartphones to tools specified for construction, like safety goggles and headsets with incorporated optical displays. These innovations allow site-based workers almost super-human powers as they cannot only see what’s in front of them but can check their surroundings against architectural models and specifications, as well as being able to see quality control guides.
With the potential to help build faster, for lower costs, and more sustainably, this technology already has and will continue to change the face of modern construction. AR is providing refreshing solutions to persistent challenges like project and cost overruns, helping developers to avoid significant costs.
There is still progress to be made in making AR more accessible to architects, engineers, and construction workers, but the potential applications are huge, and I think its adoption will grow exponentially in years to come.
Now, let’s talk about why.
Using AR throughout project life cycles
AR has applications from the start of construction projects right through to post-construction. For example, it can render architectural models, created using building information modeling (BIM) through computer aided design (CAD) ahead of building to determine if there are any unexpected concerns to address. These real-world scale models, which provide a realistic experience, can be hugely beneficial in the planning stage of projects as they can help workers foresee problems, preventing a common issue in the industry – rework (redoing work where mistakes have been made). In addition, viewing a design early on during a project can put stakeholders’ minds at ease as they can be fully involved in the building process and gather more in-depth insights than they would off-site.
As projects progress, AR can also be used to evaluate and validate work by comparing installations against models. This means relevant adjustments can be made at any point, again helping to reduce the impacts of mistakes further down the line and instances of rework. Let’s say a rainwater pipe is installed and there is a positional discrepancy that will affect the rest of the build. Using AR, you can spot this and fix it immediately, preventing backtracking, saving time, materials, and money. Astonishingly, around 30%3 of all construction work is rework, often costing close to 5%4 of total project costs. This can be omitted thanks to tech support such as AR because accurate models can be viewed in real-time.
Digital transformation in construction
A range of complementary digital technologies can maximize the potential of AR. Using building information modeling, AR has the power to bring prefabricated designs to life, and collaborative software can help to amplify this application. Some AR tools even allow remote teams to stream directly to on-site workers and view models alongside users from anywhere in the world.
By digitizing designs, projects can be managed more holistically, as data can be shared with the wider project team, limiting misinformation and reducing costly errors. This collaborative interoperability better equips workers to ensure construction is accurate and to the quality needed. Interoperability means designs can be shared more readily with fewer alterations to accommodate different software platforms. Not all contractors use the same programs and the same technology, meaning there are no standard systems across all of construction. Therefore, interoperable tech is a must as it can be accommodated by different groups. This is essential if we want to realize the true value of digital technologies like AR and combine these solutions into one cohesive ecosystem.
Some devices, such as our engineering-grade AR tool the Atom5, incorporate additional elements such as laser-based tracking technology to position designs to millimeter accuracy. Using this technology, engineers can view holograms of models positioned around sites by tapping into site coordinate systems. Integrating different solutions like this means looking beyond topline applications for technologies like AR and CAD. This kind of thinking will fuel innovation in digital construction, increasing the efficiency of construction methods.
AR will drive sustainability
Recent industry analysis6 found the AR market was worth just under $10 billion in 2021. This number is expected to skyrocket to $150 billion by the end of the decade. This proliferation of AR will help fuel expected growth7 in construction by providing more efficient ways of working, allowing leaders in the industry to keep up with increasing demand for projects whilst maintaining high-quality builds and limiting costs.
By facilitating more effective construction methods and greater agility when managing projects, AR, alongside other digital innovations, will also help to make construction a more sustainable industry. Environmental concerns caused by the built environment, such as high carbon emissions (39%8 of global emissions), are a major focus for the industry.
Fewer errors during operational phases and shorter project timelines thanks to AR will help to reduce both waste and the carbon footprint of construction projects. Ultimately, this will allow construction professionals to align with increasingly stringent ESG targets as businesses will consume fewer resources and limit emissions.
This powerful technology is now at workers’ fingertips. AR is the next step in the evolution of building methods, combining the flexibility of digital designs with the real world to allow construction professionals to quite literally create a world before their eyes. As further investments help AR grow, we will see a more efficient, sustainable industry bloom. It’s truly an exciting time for construction technology.