Virtual reality: Benefits to the project process and beyond

By Ken Alexander, Vice President of Sales, and
Greg Delagrange, Project Manager

When it comes to evolving technology in design and construction, new software and hardware can improve outcomes on many levels. With each new development of three-dimensional tools, we’re advancing how we can communicate and how the building partners and future occupants can visualize—and keep records of—the resulting space. For example, building information modeling allows project team members to collaborate during design and construction, and—after the project is over—provides a model that can benefit the owner’s facilities management staff and their future operations. Virtual and augmented reality introduces another way for the team to communicate with the construction partners—from the building owner to its end users—effectively and efficiently. In addition, it provides value far beyond the project process.

Comprehension of design   

Current virtual reality tools include modeling software combined with headset hardware that allow the user to virtually control and experience a space. These tools help stakeholders and end users grasp design concepts and understand the scale and layout of space much more effectively than when viewing a two-dimensional set of drawings, or even a fly-through of a model. This engages users and can result in fewer construction change orders and better functionality. For example, at a recent Hagerman project meeting, by using virtual reality, the preconstruction team realized that a building’s orientation would result in direct sunlight hitting the receptionist for part of the year, which would have greatly affected the employee’s comfort and wellbeing. In another instance, we were able to walk through a plan and discover and address potential blind spots for security cameras in the facility. When using virtual reality during the design phase, it’s critical to think about function and processes—both existing and future—and how your end users will operate in the space.

Understanding how the model translates to construction

Once construction has started, use of technology can transition from virtual to augmented reality, which combines a computer-generated image with the user’s view of the actual conditions to show a composite view. Through integration with three-dimensional cameras, we can provide a site walk-through without even being on-site, and compare the construction progress to the model.

Decreasing learning curves and planning solutions

In addition to helping build excitement and a sense of ownership about the new facility among staff, virtual reality provides a tool to familiarize them with their new surroundings before construction is even complete. This can help reduce the learning curve that exists when moving to a new space. Virtual and augmented reality is extremely helpful in complex spaces like industrial and healthcare, where throughput and processes are mission-critical from day one.

Along with the benefits virtual and augmented reality provides to our clients, Hagerman is exploring other ways we can use the technology to innovate and continually improve. For example, we’re exploring using virtual reality to enhance our training process, to test and plan for potential safety scenarios and solutions on the job site.

Preparing the future workforce

Hagerman is also sharing the technology—both virtual reality and building information modeling—with students when talking about careers in construction. It’s an opportunity to show students that construction isn’t all “sticks and bricks” and that there are computer technology job opportunities within construction companies.

When it comes to all the benefits of virtual reality, a common barrier to using it is simply a fear of putting on the headset! Some fear it will make them sick, but we’ve found that wearing the headset causes less discomfort than anticipated because you’re able to control the experience.

The actual reality is that virtual reality isn’t going away, and technology will continue to advance how we design and deliver projects. Take advantage of virtual reality and the benefits it has to offer. And don’t be afraid to put on the headset!

Interested in using virtual reality to enhance your next project process? Email Greg to schedule a presentation.

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