Immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented and mixed reality (AR and MR) have advanced to a point where many business leaders are recognizing their value in visualizing complex data and making information-rich decisions. Simply speaking, mixed reality technology blends real world objects with digital content interactively, in real time.
In the context of the construction industry; mixed reality enables digital (virtual) and physical content to coexist in harmony. For example, Trimble’s hard hat for Microsoft HoloLens is a wearable, self-contained holographic computer that powerfully demonstrates the advantages of using MR in real life construction.
It features a see-through, holographic display and advanced sensors that maps the physical environment. An engineer on site, equipped with a MR-enabled hardhat can see the real-world construction activity integrate seamlessly with its architectural design blueprint, or the 3D model. This merging of digital models with the real world allows construction professionals to efficiently interpret physical and digital information, and the spatial relations between them.
In the absence of mixed reality, the interpretation of digital content and its translation to real-world objects have depended on the user’s spatial understanding; because he/she is viewing a 2D computer screen or a printed paper sheet. This is a fundamentally error-prone process as it’s subject to human mind’s limitations and demands highly skilled talent. Model interpretation errors are in fact very common during the design and construction stages, and often result in rework, material wastage, cost overruns, and schedule delays. Mixed Reality overcomes these limitations and helps construction teams transform accurate and detailed digital content into physical objects for top quality construction.
Similarly, AI and machine learning have the potential to reduce project risks and control costs through ‘Generative Design’, under which 3D BIM models created by different stakeholders are fed through machine learning to produce the optimum model with zero clashes. This process results in better building designs and can potentially reduce wasteful rework, which is often a result of clashes among architecture, engineering and MEP teams during actual construction.
There are several other applications of AI in construction – from optimal project planning that will help address the problem of delays and cost overruns in projects, to enhanced onsite safety during actual construction.
Benefits of using these technologies in construction Industry?
It is estimated that use of Robotics, AI, and the Internet of Things can reduce building costs by up to 20 percent, thus directly improving the profitability of construction firms. The direct cost savings also mean less expensive construction, which can therefore benefit end-users and consumers through more affordable housing and commercial real estate.
Safety at site is another advantage of deploying cutting edge technology. For example, AI is being used to track the real-time interactions of workers, machinery, and objects on the site and alert supervisors of potential safety issues, construction errors, and productivity issues. Other companies are using AI to develop safety systems for worksites.
Better visualization and project coordination throughout the project lifecycle is another benefit that Mixed Reality brings to construction planners and professionals. For example, city planners can visualize a new building design in the exact spot where it is to be erected or a work crew can identify the exact position of underground cables or pipes before digging is actually started. Mixed Reality solutions such as Trimble hard hat for Microsoft HoloLens helps field workers to know exactly what tasks to perform. When field workers can see their models overlaid in the physical environment, more precise collaboration and project tracking and coordination is possible, which directly translates to faster and safer construction.
Moreover, all construction projects require managers to look out and mitigate four broad categories of risks: quality, safety, time, and costs. Cutting-edge technologies like robotics, AI and MR go a long way in mitigating all four categories of risks. They also help shorten project schedules and timelines, reduce costs, eliminate rework, and support additional workflows like on-site assembly, progress tracking using 4D models, and even asset management.
Trimble Solutions available in the market that utilize these technologies.
The Trimble XR10 with HoloLens 2 was launched in the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last year. It is the first device created with the Microsoft HoloLens Customization Program and integrates the latest spatial computing technology into a certified solution for use with a hard hat for worker safety. With a wide field-of-view, improved usability and a unique, flip-up view screen, the Trimble XR10 with HoloLens 2 combines state-of-the-art mixed reality and safe operation in restricted access work areas. The full solution provides even greater accessibility to 3D models by front-line workers and the field-oriented workflows enable broad adoption of mixed-reality for jobsite activities to improve efficiency, productivity and overall quality of work.
Recent advances in augmented and mixed reality (AR/MR) have often focused on indoor spaces; but have yet to bridge the gap between a site plan and the outside world. We hope to solve this by leveraging its existing high-accuracy positioning technology to create a better solution for visualizing geospatial data. Trimble SiteVision is a user-friendly outdoor augmented reality system that brings data to life, so you can visualize and explore complex information with unrivalled accuracy. It combines geospatial referencing with 3D visualization to provide context to building models.
Also, recently there’s been an interesting partnership between Trimble, Hilti and Boston Dynamics to explore the integration of Trimble’s and Hilti’s construction management software solutions, GNSS technology and reality capture devices with Boston Dynamics’ Spot Robot platform. The goal of this partnership is to utilize robots for routine tasks in hazardous environments to improve safety, efficiency, and data capture consistency, as a part of our digital transformation vision.
How ready is Indian construction industry to adopt these technologies?
According to a recent industry report, BIM based workflows investment in India has been steadily increasing and is estimated to be in the range of 45%-50%. Several leading construction companies in India have shown great keenness in exploring AR/MR and other technologies to create new competitive advantages for themselves in India and globally. Many of these companies compete with global construction players in bidding for prestigious international projects and therefore realize the value of using cutting-edge technologies to win these projects and execute them successfully.
As we speak, there are a few pilot projects underway in different parts of the country that are actively deploying these technologies at actual construction sites. We expect this trend to gain momentum in the coming months and quarters; particularly in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic as construction industry prepares itself for the next normal.
COVID-19 pandemic Hamper or Accelerate the technology adoption
The construction industry is inherently labour-intensive and has often resisted technological innovations. The ongoing pandemic would likely mean a much slower rebound to normalcy for the construction industry, even after the lockdown ends, as compared to many other industries. Implicit within this prognosis is the opportunity for the industry to transform itself and embrace automation and digital workflows.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is thus likely to become a powerful catalyst for accelerated digitalisation and automation for most organizations who have been mulling about making this transition, and others will follow suit with alacrity. Many firms have already displayed great agility and dynamism in responding to the ‘new normal’ of the lockdown economy, with the accompanying rise in remote working and restrictions on travel, by embracing digitalized processes and workflows.
The question is no longer about whether construction companies should digitize, rather, the moot point today is how they can embrace automation and digitalization that best prepares them to mitigate the business impact or create new opportunities from crisis. We therefore hope to see more and more construction players adopt cutting-edge tech innovations like cloud-based collaboration, Mixed or Augmented Reality (AR), Machine Learning (ML), and constructible Building Information Modeling (BIM).
Article Authored by :: Mr. Paul Wallett, Regional Director, Trimble Solutions India and Middle East