According to a report of the United States Department of Labor, 4,821 workers died on the job in 2014. From those, 1 in 5 was a construction worker. There is a need to solve this situation with all tools that are available and one of them is as promising as it is innovative and trending: Virtual Reality (VR).
Virtual Reality uses a combination of computer hardware and software technologies to replicate a real physical environment so that the user can interact with this space. Although VR is mostly covered by the media in video gaming industry, it is developing beyond entertainment. VR construction technologies (ConTech), notably in Building Information Modelling (BIM), are emerging fast in the market. Many experienced construction companies are increasingly adopting VR technology to improve site safety, provide virtual training and thus reduce all relevant travel costs.
Major Hong Kong–based firm, Gammon Construction Limited has already started using virtual reality to train their employees. Safety Manager Kwok Wai-yin said:
“This training has successfully drawn trainees’ attention, stimulated their responses and attained mutual communication, which is more effective and convincing than lectures. Besides, it has changed their mode of thinking, boosted site safety and getting us closer to the zero harm goal.”
Furthermore, the leading global construction company Bechtel also rolls out a virtual reality safety training in order to take their training and education program to the next level. This goes along with the general industry trend of “the construction business [going] digital”, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
As another great example, earlier this year, the insurance company Texas Mutual released a free VR training app for iOS and Android devices, which featured four 360° safety instructional videos. While those videos are certainly useful to raise awareness for general safety rules, solutions like this cannot be used to point to specific danger zones on a construction site. Furthermore, the professional production of those clips can be very costly.
In contrast to that, the self-service platform HoloBuilder.com allows construction professionals to take 360° images of their construction sites themselves and connect those to a virtual tour, called digital job walk.
According to the recently released KPMG Global Construction Survey 2016“visualization is the future of decision-making in capital projects” and “rapid adoption of visualization means that virtual ‘tours’ of construction sites will soon become the norm.”
“Mid-size companies seem to acknowledge technology’s potential to bring a competitive advantage and have backed up their beliefs with sizeable investments.”
Thus, forward thinking construction companies can be ahead of time and use HoloBuilder’s JobWalk app to record the environment in 360 degrees while they are walking around the construction site. This makes it much easier to integrate VR content creation into existing processes. Those digital job walks can also be enriched with further information: warning signs may lead the viewer’s attention to specific problematic or dangerous areas, or floating texts, as well as integrated videos, can provide further information to the construction site.
A good way to make use of virtual tours like these is to create a VR safety tutorial, tailored to a specific construction site’s conditions. A digital job walk can be enriched with crucial safety instructions, general rules, insights to inaccessible areas and visualization of do’s and don’ts. Thanks to HoloBuilder being a web-based platform, the digital job walk can be accessed from anywhere in the world, without the need of downloading an additional application. The application is compatible with VR hardware devices, such as Google Cardboard or Gear VR, allowing users to have an even more immersive experience.
VR Training allows for an immersive experience
VR safety training offers an opportunity to navigate freely between scenes of a virtual space, as opposed to traditional videos, where the point of view is fixed. Trainees can undergo training in a secure and forgiving environment. Thus, they can recognize complex and volatile workplace situations as well as acquire knowledge of procedures and skills. Classical job site lecturing or a flat video cannot provide the same convenience and possibilities for construction workers. Standardized training materials may be obsolete and fail to include new regulations. Besides, regular on-site visits for safety training can be costly to the construction company. Sending all the workers to a distant construction site demand not only travel expenses but also additional organization expenditures.
Using VR technology to educate workers, therefore, reduces this cost enormously. Construction companies can send personnel on site to film the construction site with 360° image and video recording devices. The remaining coworkers can put on simulation devices to do their virtual tour simultaneously with those who are on site. Furthermore, the virtual tutorial can be watched over and over again to reinforce the safety training while sending repeatedly workers to on-site training costs an arm and a leg for the company.
There is, however, one crucial condition that should not be neglected in VR safety training. The 360° image taking and filming should consider every blind spot because the health and safety risk can be very high. A blind spot in a construction site represents a vehicle or a piece of material moving towards you. Hence, integrating VR into safety training should be comprehensive. Antti Korhonen, CEO of Redpoint Positioning, gets to the heart of it:
“All of these technologies are providing visibility into the job site that we simply have not had before, and providing new understandings of who is where and doing what and any point in time.”
In a nutshell, adopting VR technology in construction revitalizes the tough, physical and high-risk industry image. Adopting VR in safety training and BIM can also be appealing to the younger generation of construction workers, as VR is likely to become part of their entertainment routine in the near future. All in all, VR construction technology introduces many great advantages: shorter construction time, higher detail precision, and most importantly, safer working environments.