How AR and VR Will Help Your Construction Firm During COVID-19 and After

Augmented and virtual reality will let you maintain safe distances, but its benefits go far beyond the pandemic.

The majority of major industries experienced disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing mandates and the need to meet critical demands in medical care forced construction companies, organizations, and their workers to adapt.

Many states designated construction as an essential service at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. During the peak of the outbreaks, the construction industry helped expand existing healthcare facilities, converting shipping containers into medical facilities and building temporary hospitals. The Miami Beach Convention Center was converted into a 450-bed field hospital. Citizen Care mobile virus testing centers were set up in adapted shipping containers in Minnesota.

However, after medical facilities all over the world were expanded, built new, or adapted to suit the influx of patients infected with COVID-19, many communities halted construction—hurting architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms. Limits placed on how many workers can gather at a job site vary from community to community, but the overall dampening effect of distancing regulations can be overcome with powerful software and XR technology.

Meetings can be conducted in a virtual conference room, while virtual reality can transport key people to any job site. More preparation in the initial stages of planning using virtual reality and augmented reality technology is critical to continuing construction. While safe distancing may require fewer people on the physical site, AR and VR technologies will, in effect, open the site up, allowing more people to be on the site virtually—without being subject to travel or unsafe interaction. This can be done today with a combination of the HoloLens 2 and VisualLive along with connectivity supplied by Microsoft Office 365 and Teams meetings.

If you are new to learning about virtual reality and augmented reality, the next two sections will get you up to speed.

Virtual reality is a technology that allows people simulated access to the digital world as if it were the physical world. Most VR systems use a wearable optical extension of a computerized 2D display of 3D graphics, tailored primarily to sound and vision. The most common form factor currently in use is the virtual reality headset. Virtual reality headsets are a combination of specialized computer electronics and optical hardware that provide the user with simulated access to a 2D screen displaying 3D graphics. Most virtual reality headsets use a nearby computer and software to generate a digital simulation, while the headset hardware completely occludes the user’s sight of their physical surroundings.

Architects and engineers benefit immensely from crystal-clear visual communication of CAD designs in a VR environment. For example, you can walk around a CAD drawing as though you were actually there, with nothing physical to manage. You can walk around in the software version of your design, which is particularly beneficial when dealing with large-scale CAD models. A virtual reality headset loaded with a CAD drawing of an existing structure or facility far bigger than a conference room can be navigated naturally.

Now more than ever, it is becoming increasingly important to collaborate visually and immerse decision-makers and clients into designs. Some industries have been using VR for quite some time and others are new to it, but the adoption of the technology will only grow as more impactful applications are created.

Right now, virtual reality is used primarily for immersive visualization and training through simulation. This enables architectural engineers, structural engineers, and many other construction industry professionals to understand and examine projects in real-time at a 1:1 scale and in much more detail than with a mouse and a 2D display screen.

If you are new to learning about VR, keep in mind that it supplements existing computer hardware and software such as CAD laptops or workstations. VR does not replace workflows; it extends their three-dimensional character into hardware that allows you and others to see it at full scale.