Using Augmented Reality for Construction


This article was originally published at on February 10, 2016.

Virtual reality (VR) has been all the buzz lately, but today’s architects and designers shouldn’t underestimate the power of augmented reality (AR) in construction. While virtual reality can help designers visualize a structure to see how everything will look, augmented reality plays a role in helping construction teams in the field understand how various systems and components fit together during production. The current process for a structure is that it is designed in 3D, transferred to 2D documents and then built in 3D. The transition from 3D to 2D and back again can be quite difficult and prone to error—so what if we could cut this middle step out altogether?

Using AR for Construction

One method to make the actual construction process easier for builders is to have tablets on-site. These tablets use apps to render 3D models so that construction teams can compare the models to blueprints.

In theory, this approach should reduce the need to rely on 2D construction documents, but this often isn’t the case in practice. Instead, the display on the tablet still requires interpretation between the model and the actual building site. This human translation can leave teams wondering which line on the blueprint corresponds to which edge in the model.

This is where AR comes in. Instead of generating an entirely virtual environment, AR leverages the real world such as a building site and places the building model directly into this site in real time. This allows a user to see exactly how a design fits into the construction site, including how parts and systems that have yet to be constructed will fit in comparison to those which have already been constructed.

Although AR can help users figure out how to correspond 2D elements in a drawing with their 3D and real-world counterparts, the tablet format is somewhat limiting.

Bringing AR On-site

In order to bring AR onto a build site in a more useful way, Bentley Systems created a system with substantial potential.

The original design was rather ad hoc—a bit of a MacGyver job if you will—consisting of an Oculus Rift-style prototype constructed using two wide-field-of-view webcams, an in-house AR application and a bit of hot glue. This application provided additional context for construction teams by creating an interpretation system between 2D documents and 3D models.

When the wearer highlights an entity in the 2D format, the corresponding 3D component is highlighted automatically.

Here’s a look at how the system works:

Although this type of component identification promises to be widely useful, it holds specific potential for the small and complex components of MEP systems.

Just imagine being able to put on an AR headset and see exactly which line on a 2D construction document corresponds to a given object, such as a section of pipe in a building information modeling (BIM) model. The team at Bentley even speculated that in the future, workers would be able to see exact location, assembly instructions, part information, warnings and other information associated with BIM projects.

For more information on augmented reality in construction, check out the Bentley Systems research here.