Why Augmented Reality Is the Future of Site Planning and Safety

AR will unlock efficiencies and cost savings and keep workers safe. To start, create a roadmap, identify AR integrations, test the solution, educate the team and determine ROI.
By Matt Maher
April 22, 2021

For the last few years, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality have increased in both popularity and functionality for industries such as gaming and entertainment, proving these emerging technologies pack more than just a fun experience. But there are still barriers to adoption, as most consumers see the price and form factor like goggles, glasses or headsets as cumbersome and expensive. It seems like too much for something that just seems cool.

As with all emerging technology, advancements and innovation quickly make it more mainstream and practical once the novelty has worn off, prices drop and it has proven ROI—especially for businesses. Fast forward to now as organizations across the board—from retail to construction—warm up to new technologies as they prove their worth.

When it comes to construction and the built world, there are two unwavering issues that have plagued the industry for decades. First, more than a trillion dollars a year are left on the table due to lack of innovation, specifically communication, productivity and inefficiencies in operations. Second, safety is and always will be the most important aspect of the industry, but accidents still happen. AR will be the technology of the 20s and 30s that will take both of those issues head on, unlocking massive efficiencies, cost savings and most importantly, keeping workers safe. Unlike VR, AR doesn’t require a heavy product investment as its software that already ‘lives’ on devices in use every day.

The Brass Tacks of AR

AR technology involves overlaying visual, auditory or other sensory information onto the world in order to digitally augmented one's experience. It provides an enhanced view in real-time on a person’s current environment, which has become very popular on social media platforms such as Snapchat, but holds much more potential than just a funny filter that alters someone’s appearance.

In the built world, “overlaying of visual or auditory information” offers limitless applications from changing the way CAD models are built and reviewed, to visualizing infrastructural elements such as electrical and plumbing, even assisting in communication and how workers interact with one another on site. All use cases result in two outcomes: increased productivity and safety.

Project Planning: How Can Change the Future of Construction

The value of AR can begin in the early stages of a construction project by being able to circumvent traditional architectural issues, starting with the end in mind in a very real way. This technology enables a digital look into the future, showcasing how the final building will look in its surrounding area and community. This allows clients to help better understand community impact on crane placements and road closures and empowers them to make necessary revisions before anything gets started, which ultimately will decrease cost overages for mid-project changes. One AR solution, a subtractive AR called AVUS, allows users to visually remove roads and sidewalks, understanding what current infrastructure like plumbing lines may exist, which is critical in the first stages of planning and development.

Goodbye CAD: Modeling and Visualizing Projects

For many years CAD modeling has been the standard in developing 3D constructed blueprints, but there’s always been a caveat: these models are viewed on 2D screens. With the advances in AR, these flat, 2D interpretations of these models can provide 3D and 4D experience for users. Construction clients can walk through and interact with the model, getting a better sense and feel for all of the elements, layouts and building stages.

Suffolk Construction, an innovator in the built world, is exploring ways to use 3D environmental scans to overlay around a CAD model in AR, enabling the ability to see how the building will impact things like the skyline, community and traffic flow. Again, this allows them to move away from a stagnant approach to a more interactive experience with the story or life cycle of the project. Additionally, most CAD software solutions can work well with AR solutions, so there is interoperability, which allows for data to be pulled from various sources and digital instructions to be translated to key stakeholders.

Safety on Site

In addition to the future facing implications AR offers in a building’s lifecycle, this technology offers an immediate opportunity for productivity and safety. By implementing the use of smart glasses, also known as a heads-up-display (HUD), contractors can project information via a transparent lens without looking away from their usual viewpoints. This is crucial on job sites, as smartphones and tablets are in the pockets and vests of every project manager, partner and employee. Hardware options like the Microsoft HoloLens or Vuzix Smart Glasses create a solution for employees that eliminates the need to look down as they walk around dangerous sites, trying to pull information from their usual devices. Additionally, this technology has become crucial in the time of COVID-19 when people are less interested in visiting sites in-person. With wearable photo documentation tools like OpenSpaceAI, project managers can engage with vendors and stakeholders by showing them real-time project progress.

These types of solutions are also valuable for task-based elements such as punch-lists, determining future weather issues and even improving site working environments for workers.

Some companies are even using AR to develop lunch ordering solutions for workers and ways for project managers to clearly show teams where issues need to be addressed.

Getting Started

Companies using AR often wonder where to start. Suffolk Construction operates with a vision that puts the company five years into the future, sometimes more. The reality is, most other players are stuck in the now, and need solutions for today. The scope of this technology can feel daunting or unmanageable and the ability to integrate and ramp up on the tech seems unlikely. Here are a few tips to get started if AR is the right innovative technology to take the company to the next level:

  • Deep dive on AR and understand the potential. Bring a subject matter expert in to talk about where the technology is today, where it’s headed tomorrow and the opportunities that exist. As an example, Apple just announced its building proprietary LiDAR technology (Light Detection and Ranging) for its phone, tablets and eventually glasses. LiDAR offers hyper-accurate geospatial measurements, a game changer for the built world when it comes to properly laying electrical, plumbing, piping and any infrastructure that requires zero room for error.
  • Identify problems before buying solutions. Every industry, company and specific project is unique. Look at the elements of the business that are inefficient or challenging, and where other solutions have been exhausted. More times than not, there will be an opportunity for a technology like AR to help solve problems.
  • Take a strategic approach. Map out the objectives and expectations of the technology before getting started, this will ensure the company is properly benchmarking success and not setting itself up for disappointment. While technologies like AR can solve a multitude of current construction challenges, there’s no catch-all silver bullet.
  • Crawl, walk, run. Create a roadmap that allows for big dreams for the future, but be actionable and start small today. Identify a portion of the project where AR can be easily integrated, then get to work putting the partners and tech together to solve the issue. This gives the company time to test the solution, educate the team and determine how quickly there will be a return on investment. With this success, the company can start to extrapolate the technology to other parts of its business, identifying more use cases and moving more quickly to implement and execute.
by Matt Maher
Matt Maher guides brands and executive teams through the ever-changing media and technological landscapes - from AI and Voice technology to AR and VR. He formerly served as VP of Innovation at Assembly, AdAge’s 2018 Agency of the Year, and has given keynote presentations at CES, SXSW, industry panels and private client events. 

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