You Can Augment Your Bottom Line

The construction industry needs to wise up to the many benefits that augmented reality can bring to project management, saving you time and money, says David Mole

For many, augmented reality is something from science fiction films, not something that can be used in the everyday working life. But in fact, much like the progression of the internet and social media, the technology behind augmented reality is gaining traction and will be widely available within the next decade.

In effect, augmented reality provides a digitally enhanced view of the world in real time. With it you can overlay sets of information with other sets of information, completing a fuller picture of your surroundings.

There are actually two types of augmented reality: GPS/compass-based augmented reality, and vision-based augmented reality. The GPS-based version uses location data to provide real-time information to the user, whereas vision-based augmented reality uses a device’s camera to scan and provide information.

Augmented reality is increasingly being used in consumer facing industries. But the technology’s potential has not gone unnoticed in the commercial world and companies are increasingly using its ability to bring real-time solutions to practical problems.

In the building and construction industry, such technology is already revolutionising the way that site assessments and construction projects are managed. For example, current mapping applications allow users to overlay information, so that, for example you can plot route and distance information on existing area maps. The British Geological Survey has already developed an app that allows users to explore the rock geology beneath their feet using a mobile phone’s camera.

Landmark Information Group has also recently enhanced its Envirocheck Analysis online mapping software. This is designed to deliver significant time savings and improved accuracy over manual historic map analysis for Phase 1 environmental site assessments, and provides a quick and easy way to overlay current and historical maps and aerial photography.

It is currently only available on the desktop platform, although a mobile version, using augmented reality, is planned in the near future.

Current mobile technology can also take advantage of mobile hardware, as well as software. For instance, there are applications that can use a mobile phone’s camera to measure the distance of an object and then calculate other information such as dimensions and overlay this data onto photographs and diagrams. Mobile technology also allows those in the construction industry to create detailed notes and information, along with images and videos, of current projects and to share that data with colleagues and others involved. This aids collaboration and speeds up the overall process. It will allow junior consultants and those with less experience to be supported remotely by more senior members of a team.

Other technologies are emerging that will help construction projects even more in the future. Already there is an increasing use of video to improve the efficiency of work completed in the field. The way that video imagery is captured is also changing. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be increasingly common as they can provide up-to-date, real-time information that will allow environmental consultants to survey locations remotely, thus saving time. In fact last month the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved six sites for testing UAVs for commercial use. There is also the possibility of using nano satellites to capture and provide high definition images for commercial use.

Despite these advances, the construction industry still really needs to seize the opportunities that augmented reality offers. Those in the industry need to get used to using the technology to solve practical problems and develop it further. If this happens, the cost savings and efficiency improvements will make a substantial difference to operating costs in the future.

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