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Augmented Reality – bringing real-world applications in construction

Advanced construction technology covers a wide range of modern techniques and practices that encompass the latest developments in materials technology, design procedures, quantity surveying, facilities management, services, structural analysis and design, and management studies. Incorporating advanced construction technology into practice can increase levels of quality, efficiency, safety, sustainability and value for money. The adoption of advanced construction technology requires an appropriate design, commitment from the whole project team, suitable procurement strategies, good quality control, appropriate training and careful commissioning. Augmented reality is one such construction technology being adopted by the industry. It is a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world.

Augmented reality (AR) is an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory and olfactory. AR can be defined as a system that fulfills three basic features: a combination of real and virtual worlds, real-time interaction, and accurate 3D registration of virtual and real objects. The overlaid sensory information can be constructive (i.e. additive to the natural environment), or destructive (i.e. masking of the natural environment). This experience is seamlessly interwoven with the physical world such that it is perceived as an immersive aspect of the real environment. In this way, augmented reality alters one’s ongoing perception of a real-world environment, whereas virtual reality completely replaces the user’s real-world environment with a simulated one. Augmented reality is related to two largely synonymous terms: mixed reality and computer-mediated reality.

How does it work

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. It can then be identified 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:

  • AR Display: How the user observes and interacts with the AR content. The most common types of display are tablet devices , AR Glasses (e.g. Vuzix M-100, Atheer AiR), and smartphones (iPhone, Android devices).
  • Visual Rendering Engine: How the AR content is generated.
  • Content Management System (CMS): How the AR content is managed and delivered to the AR Display.
  • Location tracking: How the AR content is positioned relative to the physical real-world environment. There are many types of location tracking methods including Barcode, GPS, QR codes, image recognition, feature point recognition, edge based tracking, Manometer tracking and RGB sensors.

Augmented reality in changing construction industry

There are numerous AR tracking technologies available depending on the AR system being used and the site environment. Each technology has its merits and ideal implementation and selection criteria which need to be considered carefully. Selecting the wrong tracking method could impact the accuracy of the positioning of the AR content. One solution is to use a combination of tracking technologies which work together to improve positioning and additionally allows the tracking to continue to work if one or a number of the tracking methods temporarily fails. There are many ways in which virtual reality is changing the face of construction, some of them are given below.

  • Augmented reality is used to enhance natural environments or situations and offer perceptually enriched experiences. With the help of advanced AR technologies the information about the surrounding real world of the user becomes interactive and digitally manipulated. Information about the environment and its objects is overlaid on the real world.
  • Augmented reality also has a lot of potential in the gathering and sharing of tacit knowledge. Augmentation techniques are typically performed in real time and in semantic contexts with environmental elements. Immersive perceptual information is sometimes combined with supplemental information like scores over a live video feed of a sporting event. This combines the benefits of both augmented reality technology and heads up display technology (HUD).
  • Augmented reality can be used for simulating a building, structure or space in which users can immerse themselves prior to it being constructed in reality. This enables designers and other construction professionals to test ideas, components and features before committing them for construction.
  • It can also help identify potential conflicts or problems before construction work has started and alterations become more costly. It can be used to simulate workspaces for the purposes of providing training and health and safety guidance. By exploring, gaining familiarity with, and practising in, a simulated environment, knowledge and skills can be gained without any of the real-world consequences.
  • It can be used for design analysis to pick out clashes by virtually walking through your completed model. It fits the bill for constructability review by letting the architect and contractor collaborate on changes that have to happen between design and construction due to constructability issues. It can even assist with prefabrication of building components.
  • It can also greatly benefit the client by being able to experience the project in a virtual realm, enabling them to review the design and decide whether it meets their requirements. Small details can be picked up on that might be overlooked in a traditional computer-aided design (CAD) model or with building information modelling (BIM).
  • 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.

Application of augmented reality in construction

  • Stakeholder visualisation using 2D or 3D models.
  • 4D field driven project planning: The 3D construction sequencing model is overlaid against the real-world site environment so the construction sequence can be checked and verified on site.
  • Safety viewer: Specific safety or hazards can be augmented over the real-world site environment using 3D pop-up icons
  • Project Technical Requests viewer: Non-conformance or requests for information (RFIs) can be augmented over the real-world site environment using 3D pop-up icons.
  • Drawing access: 2D/3D virtual blueprints accessed on site.
  • Systems training/Operations and Maintenance: Systems operations and maintenance information overlaid over the installed equipment on site to facilitate familiarisation of systems during handover and operations & maintenance.
  • AR available on a per-project basis can place a 3D model in context, viewable on an iOS or Android device, whether on a 2D set of plans, in front of an actual site, or even on an image of your project’s site. Users focus on a given design or plan file with the camera on their mobile device; the app then recognizes the design, and the screen overlays a virtual model of what the project will look like upon completion.
  • With AR workers can tap and automatically measure built pieces and compare them to the specified measurements from a model when wearing wearables on-site. On job-site revision allows for the discovery of inconsistencies in architecture and the prevention of high costs and delays by quickly adjusting to the changes.


AR will eventually play a major part in delivery of construction projects once the key blockers are addressed 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. Some AR applications, such as Augment, enable users to apply digital objects into real environments, allowing businesses to use augmented reality devices as a way to preview their products in the real world. Similarly, it can also be used to demo what products may look like in an environment for customers, as demonstrated by companies such as Mountain Equipment Co-op or Lowe’s who use augmented reality to allow customers to preview what their products might look like at home through the use of 3D models.


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