Augmented Reality Showing its Worth in Construction Projects


Gilbane Inc. is now stepping up towards innovative building construction, by experimenting with Microsoft’s augmented reality (AR) gear. Usually, the company’s employees are relying on computers and iPads to check the digital copies of blueprints, to supervise building construction. However, the recent changes put the company on the right track towards efficiency. The new technology will help speed up their operations and avoid excessive resources expenditures.

It all started when their very own senior manager, John Myers, used the HoloLens to check one of their big projects, and the result was very satisfying. Using the perspective of the AR gear, he was able to see that some of the construction materials they planned to acquire were too long to fit in the design. Not discovered in time, this could have cost the company around $5,000 and caused delays in their project. Fortunately, Myers was able to call the construction materials supplier ahead of the delivery date, to request for the cutting of the materials. Having the right materials delivered on time, without unnecessary expenses, is very crucial in a construction firm. In this case, the HoloLens helped making sure that the progress of the construction is right on schedule.

Automation breakthrough in the field of construction is moving slow and it has been for a long time. Today, augmented reality is showing its potential, making huge changes in these operations. The HoloLens is an essential tool that can help construction firms be more efficient in their projects, by avoiding delays and going over budget. Myers was one of the early testers of the AR gear. But engineers and architects from AECOM, Gensler, and China State Construction Engineering Corporation, are also giving good feedback on their experience with the AR gear.

According to Gilbane, the company received the AR gear mid-June. The HoloLens is worth $3,000, but it already made up for its cost. The company is now in charge of constructing a $70 million project for Dearborn STEM Academy, a 120,000-square-foot school, in Boston. With his critical observation of the projects 3D-Model, through the HoloLens, Myers spotted the issue that could cost the company. “That one catch paid for the HoloLens” – Myers said.

John Myers tested the HoloLens to review a virtual 3-D model of their project.

Sue klawans, vice president at Gilbane, added that the AR gear is essential for scanning the construction plan, before the actual construction begins. This will let the engineer or architect detect flaws of the project’s layout,  which would cost the company double if taken for granted. The AR gear will also help check the “curtain” walls, which are among the delicate parts of the construction, that may require 10 or more contractors to fabricate.

I personally tried to work on a simple blueprint through the HoloLens. After strapping it on my head, I pinched my fingers so I could move the 3D-model. I tapped the button on the AR environment to maximize the display to 100%. Astonishingly, I was able to view and walk to the interior of the building. The details were stunning; it was like the real thing when it was actually built. The AR environment’s virtual control let me toggle different views of the model, the simple architecture of the other rooms, full detailed structural image, mechanical, plumbing system and electrical layout.

The navigation on the AR environment is very smooth and you can thoroughly check every layout. However, there are several drawbacks that I observed while using the HoloLens. The images became stuttered for some time and some of the images didn’t look the same as the actual room. Maybe it was because of the AR gear’s lenses that didn’t cover my peripheral view.

I think the drawback that the professional users will face is in how they will use the AR gear. Of course, safety comes first, so, before using the AR gear, the user should be in a secured place, avoiding any accidents that could happen. Another issue here is strapping the HoloLens on the user’s head with a hard hat. Due to the AR gear’s bulky nature, this could cause issues in wearing the hard hat at the same time, and affect the comfort of the user. The lenses of the AR gear are not the type that are resistant to heat and shatter proof, either. Compared to the safety glasses used by construction personnel, this could cause some issues. As a solution for these issues, the HoloLens user should be inside a mobile office, parked somewhere near the construction site.

Reviewing a construction model

Reviewing construction plans using HoloLens could be even cooler, if people were allowed to put notes on the 3-D diagram that they are viewing. This concept has been already implemented by a tech company called Trimble. They sell a 3D-modeling software, that lets people do reviews and put notes on a building’s sketch model. Users can identify the problem in the construction model quickly. At the same time, they can mark the issues with an icon or audio clip, along with the explanation why it is marked/highlighted. Then, it can be easily reviewed by other members of the construction team, to impose renovation on the construction model.

Gilbane executive, Klawans, said “We’re going to want to see HoloLens improve [as a construction aid]. But it’s a leap over what we were doing before. It’s not just a new toy”

HoloLens is thus more efficient and improves the traditional work process. This could save both time for their personnel and company resources.

What do you think of Microsoft’s HoloLens making a significance in the construction field?

Do you have any other better ideas where HoloLens should be primarily used? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.