Virtual reality in construction – a geek utopia?

For a few years already, we have seen people wearing large glasses in real estate conventions. What is this about, exactly?

Users of smart glasses gain access to a mixed reality (MR), which is a combination of reality and virtual reality. Viewing a space via smart glasses enables interacting with objects and things that do not actually exist in it. You can view computer simulated three-dimensional objects and add functionalities and information in them.

Challenges faced by smart glasses in construction

Smart glasses are frequently on show in conventions, but you rarely see them in actual use at construction sites. The glasses can be helpful in completing daily work tasks only when their usability is remarkably improved. Today’s models in the market have significant problems with cumbersome wiring and heavy weight. Their level of performance has not yet met the requirements set by a hectic work environment.

Possibilities of smart helmets in construction and real estate

Despite the problems mentioned above, new devices are being introduced to the market quite frantically. In my opinion, the most interesting newcomer is the smart helmet introduced by DAQRI. In its current state, the helmet is too heavy to be used daily, but it includes functionalities that make it a device helpful in performing property construction phase and maintenance tasks and worthy of further development. In particular, I like the fact that the glasses are integrated in the helmet, used as a safety accessory. The problems caused by the weight of the helmet, battery heating and the subsequent sweltering heat in the user’s forehead should be alleviated when a new helmet model is released, where some of the technology is worn around the waist. I look forward to this because, technologically, the device seems quite potential.

In addition to an integrated computer and a battery, the DAQRI helmet has a thermal camera. The helmet uses Autodesk’s BIM360 software, and it can be used to import the building’s layout on the helmet’s display and to compare the plan with the completed work when touring a site, for instance. Thanks to the thermal camera, temperature readings can be included in HVAC images, and real-time sensor data from building automation systems can be taken into account while making observations, for example.

Mixed property management reality

As soon as the initial problems of MR devices are solved and building information models can be kept up-to-date from the planning phase to maintenance, the utilisation of mixed reality in property maintenance can be made possible.

Performing a maintenance task with the help of smart glasses could follow a process such as this: A property manager begins to investigate why a certain part of the office is reportedly too cold. The smart glasses’ building data feed indicates the section of the suspended ceiling above which a heat duct valve is located and the sensor that is monitoring the space. Information about the valve from the building automation systems can be imported in the glasses, indicating whether the valve should be open or closed. In addition, the actual temperature in the space can be compared to the information sent by the temperature sensor. The view via the glasses can be shared to an HVAC expert who can provide further instructions to the property manager by importing information required to perform a task to the display. When everything is performed with the glasses, the users’ hands are available to perform actual work instead of operating a phone, increasing the level efficiency and work safety remarkably. 

The possibilities of utilizing mixed reality in construction and real estate are countless. The smart glasses’ journey from a convention attraction to a practical tool is underway. Let us industry professionals see to that the activities that support development are implemented on a practical level.

Juho Siitonen

The author is a Director of Sales and Customer Relations at Are who is passionate about customer-oriented development work.

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