Opinion Piece by Hadeel Saadoon
Estates Digital Services - BIM Manager
Augmented Reality, Virtual reality and Mixed Reality technologies in the time of location independent working
AR ,VR and MR technologies are becoming widespread and are evolving the meaning of visual communication. Every industry will be affected by AR and VR technologies. So far, they have been used for gaming and entertainment, tourism, marketing, education and training, and of course, the design and construction industry.
My opinion is on the use of mixed reality technologies in the new changing work environment with the adoption of remote working and remote collaboration during the pandemic and the new norm of utilising more digital technologies that are becoming part of our day to day activities and becoming business as usual.
I believe that Mixed reality technologies offer options that could, in the long term, make remote work more viable by giving remote workers a sense of presence during meetings and other collaborative activities, especially with the current advancements in the industry and the widespread adoption of Building Information Modelling, not only in design and construction but also in the operation and maintenance of buildings.
BIM offers key technologies and processes that have already been adopted and matured rapidly over the past few years and with the current advancements of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality applications it’s becoming easier than ever to access design, construction or as built models using VR, showcase to clients using AR, or even utilise the multi user experience and walk through the models in a virtual environment in applications such as Fuzor.
Mixed Reality technologies offer limitless opportunities such as reflecting building services on site using AR to validate design versus as built and also to assess hidden services which could not have been located easily in the past.
The opportunities extend to innovative teaching and training, at Coventry University we have a Simulation Centre where we utilise cutting-edge technologies which is unique in the UK to help companies and organisations across a range of sectors to train and develop their staff to new levels. The simulation centre VR experiences are also a key aspect for built environment courses and disaster management courses as it offers the option to run interactive experiences and senarios that supports teaching and training activities. The university also uses Simulation led Virtual Reality technologies to support students in healthcare courses remotely to continue to study and work beyond location-bound events.
For our industry, having presence at the office and on construction sites helps teams to collaborate and provide more personalised experiences to clients and supports brainstorming ideas between colleagues. With the shift to Location Independent Working (LIW), organisations have gained a lot of benefits including cost reduction of building management and the maintenance of office space and other overhead costs, the ability to offer flexible schedules to workers and the limitless opportunities of working without geographical barriers. But at the same time we’re losing the essential communication that supports innovation, collaborative project development and the personalised service to clients with human experience. This is where VR,AR and Mixed reality solutions can come to play by providing an immersive experience to users who can be present in one location virtually and can access information online. Whilst there are still some limitations such as the cost of equipment such as VR headsets and AR headsets and helmets, costs of software and cost of upskilling staff and learning how to utilise those technologies, however the advancements it offer can defiantly prove the ability to provide return on investment and I think our construction industry is ready for it and we’re already seeing a lot of training providers and leading industry organisations prepared to support the adoption of those technologies by offering CPD and training.
MR technologies are already becoming more accessible and we’re already seeing social media providers, gaming and phone companies such as Facebook’s joint work with Oculus, Sony and Apple develop augmented reality and virtual reality offering within their products and it’s becoming easier to access those technologies as the gaming products, mobile devices and social media platforms are available to the masses.
Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR) have the power to create highly immersive communicative experiences between organisations, workers and clients alike. Users can be transported into virtual meeting rooms, view, amend and develop building designs virtually and detect clashes between model disciplines before construction, take site tours and even offer health and safety training to construction workers remotely while collaborating in real-time.
I worked on exploring the benefits of AR,VR and MR with The Vision Network with the Centre of Digital Built Britain (CDBB) which was composed of a mix of academics and practitioners with extensive and varied expertise in digital technologies, applied specifically to engineering and construction.
Last year our report was published highlighting the opportunities and challenges of adopting AR and VR and Mixed reality applications.
As part of the Digital Built Britain framework, AR and VR technologies have been identified of utmost importance as industries of architecture, construction and engineering rely heavily on imagery for communication. The National Infrastructure Commission report, Data for the Public Good, considered AR and VR as key new technologies to increase the productivity of infrastructure and support decision-making. AR and VR technologies will be essential when visualising data in real-time – as well as in context – to enable the smart cities and smart infrastructure paradigms.
The Vision Network contributed to developing the research agenda that aims at enhancing the level of performance and digitisation for future smart cities and smart construction at citizen, portfolio, organisation and project levels. More specifically, defining a visualisation research agenda that considering the three asset Digital Built Britain stages i.e.: Delivery, Operation, and Integration; the various stakeholders through the life-cycle of the asset (e.g.: owner, builders, managers, users, etc.); and different spatial scales (e.g.: room, building, blocks, neighbourhoods, regions, etc.).
To summarise, it is important to delineate the scope of current AR and VR technologies and identify their potential to develop as excellent tools to support remote presence and collaboration and it is important to outline a complete and useful landscape of state-of-the-art research for technologies in Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).