4 Ways Virtual Reality is Changing the Construction Industry

If you were a kid in the 1970s, 80s, or 90, chances are you remember pressing your face up against a View-Master as you scrolled through your favorite 3D images. Insert the disc reels and press the trigger, and suddenly you’re taking a safari trip across Africa, swimming the ocean with prehistoric fish, or exploring the 50 states.

view master construction technology
A View-Master Model G, introduced in 1962

The View-Master, now part of the National Toy Hall of Fame, uses basic principles and 3D-viewing applications that form one of the fastest-growing technologies: Virtual Reality.  

As we’ve previously shared, the construction industry has been mainly behind the curve in adopting new technological tools. Whether it’s “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or simply a lack of workable hours to develop and utilize new technologies, contractors and construction partners are usually playing catch up when it comes to technology.

But the, virtual reality may change that trajectory.

What is Virtual Reality? NASA has a great breakdown of the term, including this definition: Virtual reality is the use of computer technology to create the effect of an interactive three-dimensional world in which the objects have a sense of spatial presence. It’s important to note that virtual reality does not mean fake or unreal. VR means to have the effect of concrete existence without actually having concrete existence. See here for a brief history of VR. 

Here are four ways virtual reality is changing the construction industry. 

1. Design: A Better Way to 3D Model

3D Model

The days of creating a 3D model of a project using cardboard, glue, and other craft supplies are thankfully over. Physical mini models of a project helped visualize the project but lacked detail and were imprecise by necessity. 

3D modeling software is changing the landscape of architectural design by creating a detailed, precise model that immerses the user right into an interactive design model from virtually anywhere in the world. 

Navigating a 3D model in VR benefits the entire project team. Architects can explore the design spaces and determine what works and doesn’t. Contractors can provide better input early in the project. Clients can walk into their new building long before even breaking ground. 

2. Client Experience: Creating a Clear Image

construction management

Seasoned architects and contractors have likely heard an iteration of “It just doesn’t look like what I imagined” from a client. With VR, those days are over, as clients slip on a headset and explore every corner of their new building, gaining a clear picture and understanding of the design. All of this before construction begins.

FFKR Architects highlights four of the many client benefits of the VR experience:

  • Fully immersive experience
  • Any rendered area of a project can be navigated and viewed
  • Moving, adjusting, or changing objects, materials, and colors as an interactive process
  • Day and night views

 VR is changing the game for clients and owners, providing an optimum understanding of their buying in construction projects. 

3. Training: A Safer Way

safety in construction

Imagine training to operate a 300’ boom crane in North America’s most densely populated setting, New York City. Whether you’re the trainer, trainee, or nearby observer, a first-time operator can pose risks to themselves, those around them, the equipment, and more. 

But what if trainees could gain real, 3-dimensional experience in a controlled environment, reducing the risks to virtually none? VR provides the solution. 

An NYC union tasked CM-Labs with creating a VR training simulator for NYC crane operators. Focusing on making the simulator as real-life as possible, the team created a 3D model of the crane based on its engineering specifications and manufacturer information. “This level of detail was used to identify and simulate the steps of what happens when everything goes well, along with the consequences when things don’t – and ensure that the simulator’s reaction would mirror that of the crane,” according to CM-Labs. The result was the first and only virtual crane rating solution approved by the NYC Department of Buildings. 

This case and many more like it display how virtual reality provides safe, cost-effective, and practical training that allows workers to familiarize themselves with the controls and operation of equipment in a low-risk, highly controlled environment. 


4. Collaboration: Anytime, Anywhere

virtual reality

Collaboration among the multitude of partners on a construction team is one of the most important aspects of a successful project. The last two years have presented the construction industry unprecedented challenges to face-to-face collaboration, meetings, and site visits. A host of technologies have surfaced to deal with the restrictions. Virtual reality offers a dynamic solution.

With VR platforms such as Resolve by InsiteVR, teams can virtually review their project together from anywhere in the world. Using VR headsets, teams review the model together at full scale, finding the design elements that work and those that don’t. Because each participant is “in” the model, team reviews aren’t reliant on screen sharing or screenshots that often lead to miscommunication and wasted effort.  

According to InsiteVR, “recent case studies report teams saving upwards of $7,000 for every hour spent reviewing together in VR before construction starts.” 

Virtual reality has come a long way from the original View-Master and will continue to develop. The design, client, training, and collaboration possibilities are only a few ways VR changes the construction industry. With its current offerings and future development, virtual reality is poised to become the reality of the construction world.

February 4th, 2022 |