The DAQRI Smart Helmet creates a complete map of a project, allowing workers to compare the original design with the one in progress. Credit: DAQRI.

  • Tungsteno


Smart helmets to visualize a work in augmented reality, apps that incorporate virtual objects in real environments or detect structural errors. The construction sector welcomes immersive technologies.

ISABEL RUBIO | Tungsteno

Nowadays it is possible to perform a heart operation without being in an operating room, enjoy a concert from one’s home and create a work of art without having to touch a canvas. All this is thanks to virtual reality, which has revolutionised all kinds of sectors: from the military, industrial and tourism sectors, to entertainment and fashion. Along with augmented reality and mixed (or hybrid) reality, these immersive technologies are also transforming the construction sector.

Extended reality is a concept that brings together augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality. In Spain, the economic activity surrounding these three immersive techniques has grown by 86.6% in the last two years, according to the 2018 XR Report, prepared by The App Date, Oarsis and Fundación Telefónica, and this upward trend is expected to continue. In fact, an increase of almost 700% is expected by 2022. The figure will rise from 27 billion dollars to 209 billion dollars, according to Statista.

By incorporating mixed reality in construction work, with the use of devices such as Hololens glasses (Microsoft), structural errors can be identified. Credit: Microsoft.

Immersive experience within the construction work itself

Advances in these techniques are leaving aside two-dimensional photos and plans of a given space to give way to virtual tours that seem real. There are now applications and programs that allow us to know what the pillars of a building that is currently under construction will look like or how the furniture in a room will appear, in order to evaluate the appearance of an unfinished project when it is completed.

The latter is possible because virtual reality allows users to immerse themselves with all their senses into any scene. To do this, they must use special headphones and glasses that isolate them from everything in the exterior world. There are already companies that use this immersive technology to allow architects, builders and clients to visit a project before it is finished. In this way it is possible to perceive the proportions and have a sense of scale and depth that cannot be achieved through traditional paper or graphic means.

For example, WakingApp is a company that allows designs to be transformed into virtual and augmented reality through a smartphone. Augmented reality serves to superimpose digital layers in a real-world environment. In this case, it is most common to use camera devices such as a mobile phone or tablet. Pokémon Go is one of the most popular examples of this technology.

In the field of construction and architecture, there are augmented reality apps that are very useful for the sector. For example, Tape Measure or Magicplan allow users to measure distances using the camera of their smartphone. There are also applications developed by companies such as Ikea that allow one to see a piece of furniture anywhere in the house on the phone screen. Devices like the DAQRI Smart Helmet permit users to visualise projects and 3D models in augmented reality and on a large scale. Employees can compare the work in progress with the original design to analyse how the work is progressing.

Superimposing digital layers on a real environment, augmented reality allows in the app developed by Ikea, see how a piece of furniture fit in a room Credit: IKEA.

Mixed Reality for Interior Design

There are also initiatives that allow virtual objects to be placed in a real environment and to interact with them. The technology used in this case is mixed (or hybrid) reality, which combines aspects of virtual reality and augmented reality. An interior designer could use HTC VIVE glasses to walk through a building and explore the space while making changes in real time. For example, vases, paintings, or other decorative objects can be moved from place to place to see where they look best.

Mixed reality also provides training for workers by simulating risks and hazards in detail. In this way, they can train on how to act in such situations and reduce the likelihood of accidents at work. For example, this technique can be useful when repairs are being carried out or a construction project undertaken. Fologram is a program whose objective is to facilitate the construction of complex projects that require a series of specific measurements and special care. Employees use Hololens augmented reality smart glasses that transform 3D models into life-size construction instructions that are virtually superimposed in the workspace. It is a kind of step-by-step guide for construction workers during the building process.

Although many companies are already going all in on extended reality, among experts in the sector there is no consensus as to when the use of these technologies will become mainstream, according to Raconteur. Only 1% of them consider that it will never occur, while 8% believe that more than 10 years will pass until it happens; 22% think it will be between six and ten years, 34% say it will take around four or five years, 29% between one and three years, and 6% feel it has already happened.

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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

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