The construction industry across the globe is caught up in technical transition as new technologies including augmented reality, drones and wearables are adopted in ever increasing amounts by construction companies eager to seize productivity improvements and enhance day-to-day processes.
How will these new technological additions impact the sector? What benefits will they bring?
1. Drones are becoming used more frequently on work-sites all over the world, especially when it comes to site documentation as it enables activity and building progress to be captured quicker and more reliably than traditional aerial site inspections. Aerial documentation is far more costly and time-consuming to carry out, often delivering results which are problematic to analyse.
2. Drones have the added benefit of being able to access hard to reach spaces. This makes them ideal for scouting-out and inspecting areas which may pose harm to humans, such as toxic environments. The image data can be mapped over a period of time to indicate any changes in the conditions of the particular environment mapped.
Numerous construction companies worldwide have begun piloting drones on their sites to improve efficiency, cut costs and gain better results.
"[Australian] surveyors are using tools like LIDAR that are very expensive and work very slowly. If we have a drone take off and fly in a grid pattern, taking a photo every 20 metres, we can cover the entire site very quickly and build 3D renders with true absolute accuracy. Like Google Maps on steroids,” explains Rory San Miguel, founder of Australian start-up Propeller Aerobotics.
Augmented reality (AR) has been a major area of interest for various sectors. What AR refers to is over-laying computer-generated data/images over a real environment?
AR usually takes the form of wearable digital glasses. One well known example of AR amongst the gaming community is the Oculus Rift, a device which resembles what I can only describe as enormous skiing goggles, allowing you to play video games in immersive virtual reality.
When it comes to construction however, integrating AR with BIM holds the most promise for spurring-on the evolution of information capturing and communication methods.
The introduction of Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology is changing the way things are done dramatically. Two-dimensional communication methods through spreadsheets and drawings has been the accepted method of communication within the industry for decades. This communication method has meant all construction professionals have had to learn & understand how to translate 2D information, such as floor plans, into an actionable information for building the final construct in the real 3D world.
BIM requires a steep learning curve and at present it is mostly integrated by consultants and experts off-site, with on-site personnel less involved in the integration process.
If AR and BIM technology was to be integrated for on-site use on a wide scale it would be a great way to get on-site workers upskilled in its use.
At the moment, the idea behind this AR application is to sync location data to BIM by using the GPS already in the device. What is meant by this is that the GPS data would be overlaid atop the corresponding site information produced by the BIM model, placing it above the real world job-site view.
Wearables is a term which has popped up to describe these new technological devices which are capable of being worn by users. This includes everything from smart watches, fitness trackers and heart rate monitors to face-worn devices such as Microsoft’s HoloLens.
These wearables change the way technology is used and interacted with on the job site. Whereas in the past you would have had to open up your laptop to check a message, now you could be immediately alerted on your smart watch when a new directive is issued. Wearables such as Google Glass may also hold great potential to enhancing on-site and off-site communication.