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What I want to achieve?

  • To write a report of publishable quality that takes an in-depth look at the way the construction industry is using the technology in the developing world, and the impact of virtual and augmented reality technology in the field of construction.
  • I will discuss different types of available VR/AR technologies and their major applications in the construction.
  • I am going to look at the major problems in the construction that can be solved easily using the AR/VR technology and the different ways of usage of the technology in the construction.
  • I will investigate the areas of implementation of these available technologies.
  • I will further investigate the future research directions and potential benefits to help further adoption of this approach.
  • The negative effects of AR/VR technology on construction projects.
  • I will identify several factors that are responsible for prevention of the wider usage of AR in the construction industry.

What I am going to do?

  • Research the different viewpoints that I am will incorporate into my investigation and report using important books, articles and the subject notes.
  • I am going to compare the potential use of augmented reality in the developing countries around the world.
  • Cost for the implementation of the AR or VR technology in the construction projects is identified.
  • Potential barriers for the implementation of the AR or VR technology are carefully identified and examined.
  • I will include two case studies which used the AR/VR technology to complete the project.  Documents evidence in the literature will be reported to support my analysis and findings leading to the conclusion of the report.
  • My case study topics are 1. A Case Study of the University of Washington’s Denny Hall Renovation 2. The Spectrum/Vertex project by BNBuilders

Training and education advancements in construction engineering

Training and education in construction engineering has been advanced by Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technologies which are effective and qualitative. Milgram and Colquhoum came up with a representative classification of the system for visualization focused on positioning virtual reality (Chen, Chi, Hung, & Kang, 2011). They give a description of the merging of virtual and real in varying proportions for creation of a visualization environment. The virtual reality continuum is defined in four peculiar levels; Augmented Reality (AR), Pure Real Presence, Pure Virtual Presence and Augmented Virtuality (AV). Virtual Reality technologies are especially associated with pure virtual presence, and have become attractive in professional and shared work environment. Shared work spaces were classified by Dunston (2008) on the basis of spatial distribution, artificial ability and transport.

Most telepresence systems in the recent times apply aforementioned levels of Virtual Reality. Positive effects of Virtual Reality have been demonstrated in various works, for example Chi, Kang, & Wang (2013) who came up with a construction education platform that applies virtual interaction in the provision of game-based safety training. The use of virtual reality in education and training has benefits that relate to its capacity for interaction of the students within virtual 3-dimensional environments (Chi, Kang, & Wang, 2013). Interaction with objects or signals in the virtual world enhances instinctive sense on the subjects hence beneficial for learning. Visual representation in Virtual Reality permits the integration of more degrees of freedom as opposed to the approach in the conventional training that often relies on static pictures and 2-dimensional drawings. In architectural education, Virtual Reality has been found effective in enhancing the learning experience through visualization abilities, which essentially makes understanding better. The students’ perception of varying architectural spaces is enhanced through a 3D object compared to traditional drawings (Fonseca, Martí, Redondo, Navarro, & Sánchez, 2014). Additionally, the normal training is used to a mouse or keyboard for interaction with computer generated models. Virtual reality on the other hand has real time visualization of interactive activities like pushing, grabbing, punching among others.

Augmented Reality is the other technology that is emerging and contributes to a substantial impact on Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry. It enhances the real world environment by overlaying virtual data onto a physical space (Goedert & Rokooei, 2016). A practical example is a football game shown on television where the lines marking the line of scrimmage and first down marker are seen because of augmented reality.

The international market uses virtual reality and augmented reality due to the increase in competition in construction, engineering and architecture industry. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technology have varying applications in the construction industry.  AR technology has a number of categories, each with specific objectives and application areas. The following paragraphs explore these categories.

This category uses markers like quick response codes, images and architectural drawings in combination with a display, camera, processor and smartphone internet capability to dominate AR application in construction (Goedert & Rokooei, 2016). Advancement in GPS technology towards accurate positioning by signals from satellite may lead to elimination of markers or other devices serving the same purpose like Radio frequency identification (RFID) (Goedert & Rokooei, 2016).

Virtual Reality Continuum: levels of virtual and real

Though the development of applications of AR is still underway and adoption still in its early stages, the industry has acknowledged its usefulness. AR was widely used in the building of Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland medical center (Klopfer & Squire, 2008). QR codes were used as markers on major building systems by McCarthy Building Companies. They were used along with laser scanning enabling the access of up-to-date 3D Building Information Modeling (BIM) models.

Real time visualization will make it possible for architects to inform owners or contractors on a greater detail the design of a project, especially if this technology can be developed to the extent of visualizing a full-scale model of a project on a display like a tablet (Li, Khoo, & Tor, 2003). It will be interesting and very informative to be able to see a building on a display even before start of the work.

This AR substitutes fully or partially the object’s initial view with a new augmented view. In it is important for the application to first recognize the object through an object recognition module below it can do the substitution of the initial and augmented views (Li, Khoo, & Tor, 2003). An example of the superimposed AR is the consumer product in Ikea augmented reality furniture catalog. Users are given an opportunity to explore their product choices more interactively by using a custom application that is able to scan chosen pages in their catalogue and place virtual Ikea furniture in their home through AR capability.

Most AR applications expose the user to synthetic and natural light, by shrouding see through goggles with projected images which permit the interactive virtual objects to appear as a layer on top of the real world view. Unlike the HTC Vive Virtual Reality headsets, the AR devices are usually self-contained and untethered hence its functionality is not limited by a cable or desktop computer (Li, Wu, Shen, Wang, & Teng, 2017).  

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a platform that is based on 3-dimensional objects and contains properties information which is relevant in retrieving data that is important in a practical building project through cycles of design, strategic planning, actual construction and maintenance operations (Ong & Nee, 2013). Different from other VR categories, BIM-enabled VR emphasizes on the model’s connections and binding data for simulation of construction processes and operations. Visualization is a critical characteristic of BIM (Park, Le, Pedro, & Lim, 2015) that enables access to data and analyze factors such as type of material and cost for an appropriate real time building design. All the components of a BIM model cutting across architecture, structural engineering, electrical, mechanical and plumbing can be reviewed in detail. For instance, it allows a user to experience a building design in 3-dimensional virtual environment without restrictions encountered in 2-dimensional drawings and allowing inspection of the design space. There are soft wares like Autodesk Revit Live (Shirazi & Behzadan, 2014) that permit easy transition from the conventional 2-dimensional drawing to the BIM-based VR environment. They essentially keep the integrity of the data in the virtual world and has clarity in the understanding of how all the design elements will be synchronized. A major advantage of the BIM-based VR is in the capacity of its model to replicate changes occurring in real time.

Benefits and positive effects of Virtual Reality in education and training

Augmented Reality in 3D viewers examples include augment which allow viewers to see 3D in real life environment using smartphones and tablets, and sun seeker which uses an AR app.

Economies around the world and especially developing countries are getting accustomed to globalisation. International construction organisations successfully bid for infrastructure projects in many developing countries that are mostly funded through donations (Song, et al., 2017). The local contractors have to raise their standards in international credibility beyond their reputation at national level as there is more and more entry of international contractors into the market. Furthermore, they have to adapt in order to satisfy clients’ requirements from diverse cultures. International contractors pose a threat to their local competitors and quite so when they invite their foreign colleagues to capitalize new markets. Among the least digitized industries was construction industry and is therefore in dire need of technology to keep up the pace of overall productivity (Shirazi & Behzadan, 2014). These tools are objectively applied to increase efficiencies, cut down costs and ensuring timely completion of projects. Any resistance to such development would therefore be absurd as it is promising enough in the achievement of goals set by builders and developers.

The construction industry may not be associated closely with technology but with the tools that have now been made available to those in the sector, high efficiencies and reduced costs can be enjoyed thanks to technology. Such technology that is applicable in the sector is VR combined with 3-dimensional building modeling, which makes builders outstanding in their marketing strategy and be able to compete well with their competitors.

Applications of VR and AR in Construction

Safety is always important in construction work otherwise it is dangerous to the laborers and people around the jobsites. 6.5 million People are involved with construction work each day by statistics from OSHA, hence rate of fatal accidents in construction industry than any other industry (Van Krevelen & Poelman, 2010). Training of safety and effectiveness is therefore critical and worth doing. More practice by workers in a controlled field makes better their operations in the site. It is however difficult to accurately create the appropriate simulation in the physical world.

Practice prepares workers in tools handling, mounting and dismounting ladders among other exercises that could be potentially dangerous (Van Krevelen & Poelman, 2010). However, real events on site may happen quickly and unexpectedly causing fatalities. One has to get used to mockups and repeated rehearsals to prepare well for real emergencies.

Construction can be a costly investment and so much requires proper planning considering all the variables involved right before starting it. Change of tactics when the building is midway in construction make the investment financially, administratively and logistically difficult to keep up. Government agencies or local authorities may again require resubmission of blueprints for approval bringing in bureaucratic bottlenecks (Waly & Thabet, 2003). Change in material needs may end up causing major design alterations or bring about unforeseen effects on other construction parts.

In addition, needs may change and it becomes difficult to track every variable involved in the construction. When the building starts taking shape, the formerly invisible deficiencies also begin showing (Wang, Truijens, Hou, Wang, & Zhou, 2014). It may not have been foreseen or even thought of from repeated reviews of the blueprint but still emerges in the real thing. This is a challenge that is hard to solve and one that has disturbed the parties involved for many years.

Augmented Reality impact on Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industry

Hope cannot be lost, for even the most disturbing problems there is a way to solve them. VR technology is a very creative solution for the challenge discussed above. With it, blueprints can be awakened before start of the work. It makes it possible for clients and architects to have an outlook of building in a finished state from different angles, see the life-size and even roam about the rooms to identify hidden flaws. McCarthy Building Companies in the United States are already using this technology (Waly & Thabet, 2003). Clients of the company are provided with an Oculus Rift head mounted display gear to virtually experience buildings that are still on paper or digital state but not yet built. With the first-hand experience of what to expect, the clients can easily make design changes to the design quickly without further incurrence of expenses or other problems that come with alterations of physical construction.

Geographical agnosticism is one of the best aspects of VR considering productivity of a workspace. Team members from anywhere around the world can meet up in a virtual conference room and communicate by gestures and body language. Interesting enough is that it does not have to be a conference room, the team can meet up just anywhere without any limitation (Wang, Truijens, Hou, Wang, & Zhou, 2014). The virtual environment focuses employees, sets the mood and provides a change of scenery from what we are used to as meeting points.

The McCarthy Company also applied VR in building a new hospital. They relied upon the knowledge of doctors and nurses the design of a complete hospital from hallways to patient rooms. The medical personnel could advise on where to place outlets for power and data, heavy equipment and doors, thus ensuring an optimal facility for effective treatment of patients.

The VR application in building of the hospital is a brilliant example of the accessibility that is brought by the technology to any field (Woksepp & Olofsson, 2008). Were it that the nurses and doctors were shown just a blueprint, no useful advice would have been received from them. But with the help of VR, the medical practitioners could maneuver about the equipment they understand well how to handle and other fixtures and able to relate with how they would handle in a physical state.

So many international construction organizations are joining the market in developing countries and winning the construction projects, making it difficult for the local contractors who have to compete with them in bidding for the projects. It therefore narrows down on who has the best tools of trade to win the contract. Virtual reality technology therefore has the potential to take root in these developing countries brought in by the competing construction firms in order to win building tenders. However, introducing this technology in such markets is costly because of the low level of technological development. Adequate research and development facilities have to be set up and linked well with practice. The good side of the technology is that it is some sort of building automation that will cut down the cost of technical skills. It is therefore highly relevant for adoption by these countries.

Application areas of Augmented Reality technology in the construction industry

Implementation of AR or VR is an expensive venture for most of the construction companies. This means that the companies going this route have to employ experts in other engineering field such as electrical and mechatronics to help out in the design, installation and operation and maintenance of these devices. This has made the small firms in the construction industry across the world to shy away from this technology just to maintain their payroll and expenses. However, the international construction firms have taken advantage of this new technology to create a competitive advantage in the industry since many clients are fascinated by this technology and it really helps all the stakeholders involved in building to have the same idea of what the final product will look like. Only those companies that are ready to go global and spend more resources will adopt this new technology to rip big in the construction industry.

AR is a good technology that can revolutionize all fields, but despite the numerous benefits it still has not reached perfection, many things are yet to be improved. The headset design is one area in AR systems that still demands research. Taking HoloLens as an example, the goggles set are large to the point of obscuring part wearer’s face and peripheral vision (Wu, Lee, Chang, & Liang, 2013). This situation is unsafe because it visually impairs you in your surrounding physical environment when you are in the augmentation, so you may not be able to tell if there is a vehicle coming towards you or someone about to knock you. The augmentation therefore needs to be integrated well with the kind of work, equipment type and the sort of clothes that are worn so that it does not pose a threat to the user.

Constant movement in a construction site by workers goes against the principle of augmentation which usually is best suited for static environments. Cameras on the headset capture the scene which does not move, limiting the cameras to detection of only fixed features. In a construction site however, the scene changes and so the system should update accordingly with something that keeps changing (Woksepp & Olofsson, 2008). This is something that researchers are still trying to decipher.

Some challenges were pointed out by Bechtel Infrastructure during an AR trial at Custom House station and a previous one at the Crossrail West project. By using AR in the custom house project, Bechtel infrastructure was able to track progress of installation of components of a superstructure that were prefabricated by them (Wu, Lee, Chang, & Liang, 2013). The Crossrail West project on the other hand used AR in the verification of their construction methodology and to locate a critical transfer deck.

Construction sites are more often than not busy, dusty, dangerous and mostly in remote locations. A number of challenges arise from such an environment related to health and safety. More particularly a person in AR is distracted by the augmented content and loses touch with their surroundings. Sensible policies successfully govern the use of phone and tablets in construction sites but there is no policy for safe use of AR devices.

Marker-based Augmented Reality

Poor or no data connections in remote areas are always a problem, creating a challenge in transferring AR content to display at the time of use.  Some AR systems have a local means of storing content prior to accessing the site which then is accessible through Bluetooth or wired connection (Waly & Thabet, 2003).

Practical use of AR systems is limited by the related costs. Most of the available AR solutions are expensive prohibiting widespread application.

Majority of the construction companies employ AR technology but are disturbed by the complexity that comes with delivering relevant business logic information and scaling up the solution for widespread application (Waly & Thabet, 2003). The business logic is important for CMS application like in the retrieval of an appropriate product datasheet for equipment that require maintenance.

The question many people would want to know is how real AR content is. In gaming, photo-realism together with high refresh rates are applied to trick that the augmented content is real. This sort of trick cannot be used in construction since what is required from the visualization is information. In the trial by Crossrail custom house, it was realized that delivering a simple block model is better than a version that is highly rendered. This therefore gives an advantage of reduced overhead on transfer of data (Van Krevelen & Poelman, 2010).

AR accuracy that is based on Windows PC is sub mm perfect and is applicable in automotive industry, mobile devices however are still improving to catch up with this sort of accuracy in construction sites (Song, et al., 2017).

Construction industry is quickly adopting AR and those that are well established are already enjoying financial benefits. With technology getting better, AR will be getting all the more common with jobsites and in conference rooms.

Technological development level is low in many developing countries. Inadequacy of research and development (R&D) facilities is mainly the reason to the slow progress. Construction companies at the moment have not fully applied VR capabilities and only contribute in specific parts of the project.

In spite of the benefits associated with VR, the idea that it originated from video game makes construction firms and their customers skeptical in adapting it. The technology is effective as it is but transforming its perception and getting more use for it in a professional setting will do well in expanding the technology (Shirazi & Behzadan, 2014).

The rise in number of young workers in construction industry positively influences virtual reality application in construction. Youngsters embrace change more than the elderly hence majority of the construction workers will be eager to try out the new technology and therefore revolutionize the industry. Continuous advancement of VR software through applications and programs will continually be received by the young generation and applied thereby positively impacting the construction industry.

BNBuilders made use of Virtual Reality technology in modeling for the first time the Spectrum/Vertex project in San Diego, California. Their justification for the use of the new technology among other reasons was that the contract was awarded for the core and shell. They could therefore focus on coordinating between both parts of the project and avoid clashes. Looking at the level of sophistication involved with the building, Larsen described it as the “Lab of the future.”

Superimposed Augmented Reality

The goals of BNBuilders in the implementation of Virtual Reality in construction led to challenges and benefits that no one anticipated. Their expectations for a high level visualization were as follows:

  • To reduce changes and reworks: This was to attain the ability where projects could be looked at in various perspectives to identify design flaws early and correct the mistakes before actual construction begin.
  • To save the clients expenses: Using Virtual Reality BNBuilders applied interactive modeling hence rid the clients what would have been the cost on expensive renderings and mockups. Also, with a better idea of what the project entails, BNBuilders could make a much better estimation of the total expenditure.

To improve the communication: With Virtual Reality the clients could see better their design. Proficiency to many owners is usually a challenge and many of them end up not knowing what the ultimate product will look like. Coordination with subcontractors is another area that BNBuilders found VR to be very much useful helping in the identification of obstacles that they may need to overcome in various locations.

In summary, the benefits that the Spectrum/Vertex project enjoyed by applying Virtual Reality were; savings on cost, identification of design flaws and proper facilities team management

The Denny Hall Renovation was another project that was an opportunity for BNBuilders to perfect the integration of design together with existing conditions. The project was focused on full renovation of the interior, replacement of all the systems and restoration of the exterior to its previous state. The whole construction value was estimated at $35m and BNBuilders promised to deliver the project 6 months ahead of the completion date that was stated in the contract. The objectives for the renovation were to preserve the building’s historic feeling, avoid any structural compromise and to remain on schedule.

With the help of VR technology, their objectives could be attained. The scanning process in the field required communication between superintendent, model coordinator and surveyor. The timing for the scanning had to be right, especially after abatement and demolition, while the space was clean and inactive and before needed for coordination.

There is a growing demand for Augmented Reality technology and next generation 3-dimensional models that are well detailed and a perfect reflection of the real world.

Training: The technology is advantageous in many ways but lack of training to people who are supposed to enjoy its benefits curtails complete utilization of the technology. It is therefore necessary to update the users with knowledge of the constituents of the technology and build their understanding of it.  

Enhancement: AR because of being open source can be used in any domain. Further improvement should be focused on new applications to enhance the existing ones. It can also be incorporated with sketches and scale models to make interpretation easier and fostering compatibility with digital devices for smooth manipulations.

Advanced Research:  The demand for increasingly advanced hardware and software is implied by the many informal tests that have been conducted so far. Research should however be improved in the sense that an integrated approach is taken so that the output product fits in various application domains without any need for alterations. The AR subject is multidisciplinary hence different experts should be able to come together and work as one.


Augmented Reality is a technology that is fast developing and still very much unexploited in the fields of civil engineering and construction management. Although Augmented Reality can attribute most of its work to motivation gained from Virtual Reality, the AR today compares well with the earlier development of VR with many prototype models that were demonstrated showing potential for a breakthrough.

Deployment of AR in the commercial market will work considerably in decreasing manpower, time, cost and other resources. If the processing of both the hardware and software modules can be made more efficient and to effectively support real time application, then AR can mature in its application in Civil engineering.


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