How Augmented Reality is giving construction workers superpowers

AR headsets create hologram models, slashing errors on site
David Mitchell

Cutting-edge technology is taking construction to new heights, offering architects, engineers and construction workers improved ways to manage projects and build in the field. In particular, Augmented Reality (AR) is a maturing innovation, changing the face of the industry by improving building efficiency and accuracy.

AR is being increasingly integrated into modern construction methods, showing promising results in helping teams to build faster, at lower prices, and more sustainably. The evolving technology supports engineers by limiting human error and providing solutions to long-standing issues like project delays and cost overruns.

Various solutions are now available to construction experts, anything from mobile apps to AR-enabled hardware such as safety goggles are becoming the ‘go-to’ tech for complex projects such as data centres. Not only do these types of projects require the highest standards of building accuracy, but as they are often expensive to build, costs can quickly spiral if mistakes or errors occur. However, AR-enabled hardware is providing accuracy on a scale that was previously unattainable – improving the early stages of construction and beyond project completion.

The Atom AR headset by XYZ Reality

Using AR, construction workers in the field can visualise 3D models and compare real-world structures against designs by superimposing these designs on physical structures. This process utilises other digital technologies and methods like Building Information Modelling (BIM) and CAD (Computer Aided Designs) to create and manage information on construction projects. This ability to bring models to life allows teams to inspect work in real-time and identify errors quickly, acting on them to minimise their impact.

These real-world scale models can also be useful during the project planning stages since they can assist workers in anticipating problems ahead of time. This can prevent a common issue in the sector - rework (redoing work where mistakes have been made). This can also be of benefit to stakeholders, allowing them to be more immersed in the build and gain more in-depth insights than they would off-site.

Construction professionals can also use AR to evaluate and validate work as projects progress, allowing field engineers to make important changes at any time. Again, this eliminates the need for reactive, costly rework. For instance, imagine a concrete slab is installed, and there are plans to build around it later. If the positioning is incorrect, this will have an impact on the rest of the structure. Using AR, you can rapidly discover mistakes and remedy them, eliminating backtracking and saving valuable time, resources, and money.

Astonishingly, rework accounts for more than 30% of all construction work, and it can cost close to 5% of total project costs. In an industry where profit margins are already tight, and a looming economic crisis threatens future work, rework is a major problem that must be tackled.

Construction’s venture into the world of AR is also an important stepping stone in the ongoing digitalisation of the industry. In recent years, construction project management has shifted from clipboard to touchpad, as digital designs become the norm. AR maximises the potential of 3D models - bringing them to life on site and show their potential beyond just an initial concept.

Merging the digital and physical realms in this way bridges communication gaps between teams working in the field and those in the office. The fact that AR can do this in real-time is yet another feather in its cap, preventing issues ahead of time.

It’s worth noting that this technology is still evolving and there are more exciting innovations still to come. Some devices, like our engineering de AR headset the Atom, are designed specifically for construction and integrate innovations such as laser-based tracking technology to accurately place structures to within 3-5 millimetre thresholds.

Using the Atom, engineers can examine holograms of models positioned around sites and tap into site coordinate systems. The result is super powered construction teams that can see beyond the surface and into the future, delivering improved accuracy, superior project-wide visibility and a greatly reduced chance of budget-busting reworks. It’s no surprise that top contractors across the world are now using AR on major building projects.

Looking ahead, further research and development into improving AR-enabled solutions is already underway and will only help fuel investment into this technology and birth new and improved tools. This is just the beginning for construction AR and I have no doubt that construction professionals of all levels will soon realise its true potential. Watch this space, AR is set to take the industry by storm.

David Mitchell is Founder & CEO of construction technology company, XYZ Reality, the company behind the Atom – an engineering-grade Augmented Reality (AR) headset. Before founding XYZ Reality, David worked as a digital construction manager on some of Europe’s largest projects including: The Shard, Battersea power station and hyper-scale data centres.

Written by
David Mitchell