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This paper will outline the current landscape of AR technology and will argue that the blockers holding back adoption of the technology are quickly eroding
The concept of using an electric display that overlays data onto real life was first mention in 1901 by Author L Frank Baum. It was not until 1990 until the term 'Augmented Reality' was coined by Thomas P. Caudell from Boeing. Augmented reality (AR) is defined as a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by virtual computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.
The "Sword of Damocles" head-mounted display was the original augmented reality headset, circa 1968. Within Construction the idea of using AR to aid with visualising building projects is not a new concept. Using computer generated images of a structure superimposed into the real life intended location was demonstrated by Trimble back in 2004. Gartner recognising AR as an emerging technology on their famous Technology Hype Cycle a year later in 2005 however since this early promise AR has been stuck in the "Trough of Disillusionment" since 2012. Gartner still predicts that the technology is 5-10 years from mainstream adoption and if Construction is a trailing industry it could take even longer before it truly revolutionises our construction sites.
So why has the technology failed to become more than a gimmick, only finding its way into the hands of fighter pilots and military special forces? With Google famously failing to get AR to the masses through its Google Glass project what does this mean to its future potential for adoption within the Construction industry?
This paper will outline the current landscape of AR technology and will argue that the blockers holding back adoption of the technology are quickly eroding. Outline lessons learnt from trial implementations by Bechtel Infrastructure and Crossrail the paper will also identify use cases for the Construction industry which hold the promise for improved productivity and health & safety on site.
In order to assess the potential impact of AR in construction it is important to first understand the technology components that form an AR system. We can then look at how well these systems work within construction given the unique characteristics of a typical construction site.
An AR system is made up of the following components:
The following challenges were identified by Bechtel Infrastructure whilst undertaking an AR trial at Custom House station for the Crossrail project and also a previous trial on the Crossrail West project. The custom house project involved the use of AR to track the progress of installation of pre-fabricated super-structure components using an AR application developed by Bechtel Infrastructure. The prior Crossrail West project used AR to verify the construction methodology and position of a critical transfer deck.
Construction sites are busy, dirty, dangerous places, often in remote locations. This brings a number of challenges that are fairly unique to this industry which make the end-to-end solutions offered by many vendors unsuitable. Health & Safety is primary concern as there is a real danger that a person using an AR display on site will be distracted by the augmented content and fail to fully engage with their surroundings. The Construction industry struggled for a long time with how to safely allow the use of phones, and more recently, tablet devices on site. Whilst most contractors now have sensible policies to govern phones and tablets the author does not know of any that have implemented similar policies that allow the safe use of AR devices.
Construction sites often suffer from poor or no data connections which provides a challenge with getting the AR content to the AR display at the point of use. Some AR systems do have local storage capability allowing the user to cache the AR content prior to accessing the site and this can then be accessed via Bluetooth or a wired connection when required.
As with all technology implementations cost is always a consideration. Many of the AR solutions available today a prohibitively expensive for widespread use. This limits the practical use of AR systems.
The following additional factors were identified during the AR trials which need consideration when applying AR on construction sites:
The following is a list non-exhaustive list of identified use cases for AR in Construction:
Whilst specific small scale trials using AR, like those at Crossrail Custom House, demonstrate the potential value of AR to construction there are numerous factors and considerations that limit its suitability for large scale deployment.
Technology advancement within the AR industry is rapid with more capable products being released on a regular basis. Given the size and number of technology companies investing in the AR industry it is certainly a technology trends which will continue to grow and will at some point have a profound effect on our lives, on business and on commerce.
Many of the challenges outlined above with implementing AR within Construction will need to be solved before mass adoption is likely to occur. The construction industry will need support for the AR and BIM software vendors in solving these problems. Developing capable generic AR solutions that have not been developed with the specific requirements of construction in mind are likely to be difficult to successfully deploy within the construction industry, particularly at large scale.
One example capability of AR solutions not extensively explored which could bring value to construction use cases is augmenting locations with sound. Rather than overlaying data or models into the user's field of view, voice could be used and this could prove less distracting and therefore safer within a site environment.
last year the AR landscape has come to understand that construction (as opposed logistics and industrial warehouse type applications of the tech) AR requires significantly different perspective to really prove beneficial to the industry beyond simple visual representation. For example, visual checklists are an excellent introductory starting point for AR companies with no relative construction experience but while fairly straightforward to create for other step by step processes in logistics/warehouse apps, more understanding is required from a construction project data and user experience perspective to justify the expense. For construction to immerse themselves in AR, AR companies need to immerse themselves in their client requirements.
AR will eventually play a major part in delivery of construction projects once the key blockers are address and the construction use cases are fully understood. Ultimately it could be an invaluable tool across all the construction supply chain to augment the construction site with business and safety critical information allowing site teams to deliver projects more efficiently and more safely. If engineers can retrieve augmented information 2D, 3D, nD, video or voice to understand and access what is currently hidden information then the early promise can be fulfilled.