Can you imagine? Being able to see the big beautiful wall stretching across the country keeping out all the unwanted invaders who threaten the great culture that resides within? Being able to walk up to the wall and look at it in all it’s glory and beauty? Well these days you can do just that by using virtual reality (VR). That’s right. Google is now bringing the Great Wall of China into classrooms everywhere. While looking at the Great Wall is cool, what about using VR to build structures like the Great Wall? After all, construction is expected to be a growing industry for the rest of this decade. According to the Construction Intelligence Center Global 50, the global construction industry is projected to grow from $8.5 trillion in 2015 to $10.3 trillion in 2020.
A recent study by ARC Document Solutions singled out virtual reality as the most powerful emerging technology in the construction industry. Over half (65.3%) of the architectural, engineering, and construction management professionals surveyed said VR applications are making it easier for clients to visualize designs earlier, shaving material costs off budgets and reducing the amount of workers needed for projects.
Here’s a look at some of the companies taking advantage of virtual reality in construction today.
While we’re waiting for the robot forklifts to come online, we’ll need to continue training human forklift operators. CertifyMe.net is a web-based forklift training company that has developed a virtual reality training experience app for iOS and Android to allow anyone to receive forklift training at no cost. The new training app is suitable for any industry with forklift safety procedures, and offers training in a virtual world where mistakes are learned from, shared, and tasks are perfected without risk to the worker or the product. Designed to attract Millennials to this industry, the VR experience also makes it easy for anyone to put on a pair of goggles and practice anywhere. This is just one example of how VR can be used as a training tool not only in construction, but in virtually any vertical.
Construction Project Virtualization
Founded by executives from Microsoft and Expedia, Context VR has created an app that allows clients to take 360-degree photos of construction projects, time-stamp them to blueprints, store them in the cloud and even look through walls using augmented reality. While the company focused on health care and nuclear facilities out of the gate, it quickly pivoted to the lucrative construction industry. The Seattle startup charges users a license fee to use the app on a per-project basis with pricing varying based on project size and the number of users.
With somewhere around 4,000 employees, DPR Construction is a national technical builder specializing in highly complex and sustainable construction projects. The Company has been working with virtual reality since 2010, long before Facebook put VR on the map with its $2 billion purchase of Oculus VR. DPR has graduated from room-sized CAVE technology to room-scale VR with head-mounted displays. The difference is that clients, designers and everyone involved in the project can feel and connect with the space long before ground has even been broken, or the redesign has even begun. The Company recently used Oculus Rifts to complete a major renovation project for the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System, allowing employees to provide feedback before the work began.
We talked about Lincoln Electric Company (NASDAQ:LECO) in a recent article on industrial robotics stocks. Welding is a necessary field for all types of construction, and it’s also a skill that’s extremely challenging to teach because of the inherent dangers of the equipment and the heights associated with building everything from cruise ships to high rises. The Lincoln Electric Company has designed the VRTEX 360 welding training system to help instructors teach the skill through virtual reality before turning the torch on. This system has been built with expansions (there are six so far) to allow advanced training as the field continues to evolve.
One way to stay relevant after 150 years of business is to adapt to new technology. One of America’s largest private construction companies, McCarthy Building Companies has been exploring virtual reality since 2012 to improve its design and building process. The company first employed a Building Information Modeling (BIM) Cave to project hospital rooms and office space into rooms in 3D. Today, they’re using the much more affordable Oculus VR to allow clients to see what the future office or work space will look like. The company is also employing Google Jump and drones to laser scan and capture 360 walkthroughs and mock-ups of buildings to bring jobsite walkthroughs to anyone with a VR headset.
Family-owned construction company Mortenson Construction is also one of the largest private construction companies in the United States. The Company has designed their own virtual reality software to use for construction projects. The company is using HTC Vive to plan and manage jobs like building or remodeling complex medical and industrial projects. For example, when designing surgery rooms in a hospital VR was employed to show surgeons the layout before it was built to ensure everything was within reach for an operation. Mortenson is also exploring augmented reality, testing out the DAQRI Smart Helmet to be used in the field to project elements like duct work onto the interior shell of a building.
When looking at these applications of virtual reality in construction, we can’t help but think that while training humans is great and all, soon robots will be welding and driving forklifts all over construction sites while humans walk around in VR goggles scoping out what the finished product is supposed to look like. Construction sites are generally populated by boys who like toys, so we’d expect to see rapid adoption of VR across the industry by the construction companies themselves as opposed to startups trying to sell their VR-based value propositions.
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