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How Augmented and Virtual Reality will change Architecture, Engineering, and Construction
Robert looks out of the windows in his executive office on the top floor of his company's new headquarters, staring at the blue waters of the bay a block away. He turns away from the view and exits the office, walking towards the elevators. He passes the conference room, its steel and glass furnishings lit up by the afternoon sun. He stops, squinting.
"I think we need to change the furniture in here. It's way too bright."
Jason looks up from his computer. "We can do that," he says. He types on his keyboard, and the conference room is now furnished in wood and darker fabrics. "We can also add some blinds or shades; let me open that library." A few minutes later, shades unroll from the ceiling, eliminating the mid-summer glare.
Robert nods. "That should do it. Where will the controls for the shades be located?"
"Where would you like them?"
Robert walks around the room, pointing. "Here, here, and here." Bright circles appear wherever he points, which are replaced by button panels. One of them glows red.
"That second button intersects a water pipe," Jason says. "What if we move it eight inches this way?" The button slides over, and Robert nods.
"That'll be fine."
"I'll save the file and make a note for the electricians," Jason says. "We're still on track to break ground next month." The two men shake hands, and Robert leaves the architect's office, which, incidentally, is several hundred miles from the nearest bay.
It may sound like a scene from science fiction, but this is becoming more and more common in AEC offices around the world. Though not quite this easy yet, as the technology continues to advance, it soon will be.
The rise of Augmented and Virtual Reality systems should not take anyone by surprise, as the foundations have been present for decades. The first head-mounted display for immersive simulations was created in 1968, and Building Information Modeling was debuted shortly thereafter. As computers displaced pen and paper, basic 3D rendering became a matter of course, expected by clients as part of the design package.
As software continues to improve, it makes the adoption of AR/VR systems more feasible for AEC companies. The rise of distributed ledger systems-also known as blockchain technology-allows every company involved in a project to work from the same set of electronic plans, with each group of specialists adding their part. Any changes made are instantly updated across the board, and everyone from the financial backers to the painters can adjust accordingly.
Hardware is also advancing with each passing year. Better displays means materials can be shown more realistically, and faster processors can provide seamless transitions between views. On the VR side, this makes it much easier for clients to experience the finished project before it has even begun. If you have the right data, the entire lifecycle of a project can be extrapolated. How will the proposed exterior finishes hold up to five years of sun and rain? Fifteen years? Fifty years? From breaking ground to demolition, users can visit any point along that timeline.
On the AR side, all of this data and hardware can allow workers on site to overlay any piece of the plan on top of the physical structure, at any stage of construction. For example, a worker outfitted with specialized goggles can look at a wall and know precisely where the plumbing and electrical runs have been installed behind it, because they will show up in his view. A landscaper walking the grounds will be able to see all of the pipes that will eventually be placed, and so be able to avoid planting trees on top of them.
By investing in augmented and virtual reality technologies, architecture, engineering, and construction companies can work on joint projects extremely efficiently, and ensure that their clients will be satisfied with the finished product before building has even begun.
Sandesh Joshi is the President and co-founder of Indovance Inc. Prior to founding Indovance, Sandesh worked at SolidWorks Corporation as a senior R&D member.
He has a bachelor of mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, India, and a Master of Science from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC, with a specialization in CAD.
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