6 ways virtual reality is transforming construction

Posted by Paula Lain, Firestarter on 28th December 2017

No sector is immune to the impact of technology, and even the construction industry is being forced to change and adapt to new trends. Currently, virtual reality (VR) is making one of the biggest marks on the way construction projects are planned, managed, built and marketed. Here are six ways that VR is revolutionising construction:

1/ Planning
Knowing what a building is going to look like and how it is going to work before a stone is even laid is a hugely powerful tool, one which can do everything from reduce wastage to improve the return on investment of a project. VR is providing construction companies with this ability right from the planning stage. One of the most obvious benefits being that it allows you to test any number of features before work starts. This includes being able to project aspects of a project, such as the services onto the interior shell, making it easier to understand and communicate what goes where.

2/ Visualisation
Computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D visualisations have long been used to demonstrate formats, spaces and systems. However, previewing paper and computer-generated details still only provides a limited experience of the finished building. And often, the designer’s vision for the completed structure fails to match that of the client.

Drawings or renderings can never quite capture the three dimensional, geospatial nature of buildings. Physical models have been created as a way to help bridge the experience gap and simulate the feeling or physical aspects of an actual environment or building. However these physical models are hugely time-consuming and costly to build, and rarely if ever provide the viewer with anything other than a brief glimpse of what the project could and will look like – even down to inaccurate portrayal of colours.

With VR technology, you can accurately experience a building, from finding the entrance lobby and predicting the flow around it to viewing the layout of an apartment or potential office.

3/ Collaboration
The design process is increasingly collaborative, with a wide range of people involved. Many problems and errors in construction projects arise from poor communication in the early phases. With VR, all collaborating partners are able to present, explain and make recommendations in a shared environment, which means that misunderstandings and errors are far less likely to occur.

Take the example of a complex medical project. Surgeons are busy people, who don’t have the time to be combing through documents and explaining how their theatres should be built. By using VR programme, they can quickly and simply check out the room and make sure they can reach all their devices from a specific spot, or that corridors are wide enough for medical teams to get through around trolleys. In short, VR provides much clearer insights into whether a building will be suited to its purpose.

4/ Decision-making
Construction projects can be an almost constant source of disagreement from the start; whether it’s delays because of citizen complaints or struggles to get relevant planning approval. Delays cost money.

However, by allowing people to accurately experience exactly how a project will impact their environment, a lot of the fears, objections and issues people have around construction projects can be alleviated. This speeds up the decision-making process for development; meaning a quicker ROI.

5/ Sales and marketing
One of the areas VR can have an obviously huge impact is in the residential business. The experience of being inside your future home, moving around, and changing materials, fixtures and furniture, is an unparalleled sales tool.

A very important factor is what you can see outside the windows of the home. A good view both speed up the buying decision and justify a premium price. A virtual home is also a great place to present products – such as furnishings – and services that can be bought; adding another layer of value into the process.

6/ Training
Construction sites can be hugely dangerous places, and VR has the power to help manage the hazards to significantly improve health and safety. Creating VR construction site simulations means that training can be undertaken in a safe environment – reducing injuries and ultimately saving human lives.

A simulated construction site could show how and where to use safety precautions. On top of this, many of those involved in the early stage of a project – such as architects and designers – have never worked at or even properly visited a construction site, so a virtual version would be a safe way to understand what happens on site and the dangers present.

7/ Sustainability
Wastage is a huge issue in the construction sector, and we’ve already highlighted how the use of VR can help reduce this by removing reworking and also by enabling construction companies to more accurately plan the resources they need. However there are two other key areas where VR can help improve sustainability within the sector.

Firstly, by creating realistic digital environments that can be viewed anytime and anywhere the industry can reduce the amount travelling for everyone from investors to end-user as projects can be experienced from anywhere in the world without having to bring people onsite. Furthermore, as the technology behind VR develops and becomes more readily available so the need for huge computers is reducing, cutting down the amount of energy needed to run VR devices.

What’s next?
Virtual reality offers a powerful opportunity for the construction industry, and as the technology develops and becomes more readily available, so the benefits will increase. If it’s not already on your radar then it should be.

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