Augmented and Virtual reality in Construction: An Interview with Harry Molyneux

virtual reality in construction

Within the construction industry, the need to collaborate and transfer knowledge effectively across all parties is essential to the success of any building project – from planning, managing and constructing the build through to marketing the many products involved.

And as the world of digital continues to grow, new technology is starting to provide revolutionary ways to better integrate the construction process from start to finish.

Within this post, we’re going to discuss the recent surge in augmented and virtual reality, as tech companies are competing to bring viable applications to market. As part of this review we’ll be interviewing Harry Molyneux, qualified architect and CEO of Buildupp, for further insight into what the future entails for the construction industry and these computer-generated platforms.

The difference between augmented and virtual reality

First things first – whilst you’ve most likely heard of both augmented and virtual reality, what’s the difference between the two?

  • Augmented reality – a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world; this means it merges technology with our physical surroundings. Think of ‘Pokemon Go’ for example, a mobile app that proved a hit with many smartphone users…

pokemon go

  • Virtual reality – a computer-generated simulation of a 3D environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way, by a person using a headset and/or sensors. This is an entirely digital, immersive experience, such as the brilliant advert by Samsung where the ostrich defies logic by learning to fly.

ostrich samsung


Augmented and virtual reality within construction

Despite these technologies being used throughout the entertainment industry, in the form of playstation games or smartphone applications, they’re also an effective way of improving productivity and collaboration within construction.

We interviewed Harry Molyneux, a qualified architect who has set up his own business as a direct result of the frustrations he felt towards the construction industry, where communication and collaboration felt disjointed.

Buildupp’ is a networking and marketing platform for those looking to recruit the right individuals for a project build; it will contain a reviewing and referral system to enable professionals and clients to review the companies and individuals for the work they’ve carried out and as as a result, choose the right people for the right job. This means that rather than having to hunt around for project reviews across a wide range of websites, ‘Buildupp’ stores all the relevant information for the construction industry, all in the one place.

As a figure with a strong architectural and construction-focused background, Harry Molyneux discusses the implementation of augmented and virtual reality, and where he thinks they’ll be heading…

  • Harry, first off how do you think virtual reality is and will be used to improve project visualization?

As it stands, projects don’t allow us to engage and interact with a building on an integrated level; current software and 2D drawings make it very difficult to convince a client why a particular design aspect is a good idea, or what product may be worth the additional cost.  However by creating improved visualisations of a building through virtual reality, you can physically demonstrate to your client how great a building will be within a particular environment. For me, it’s a way of ensuring we’re all on the same page.

Another interesting aspect of virtual reality for projects is its’ potential to visualize what a building may look like in ten years time – you’d be amazed at the amount of buildings designed with products that may look aesthetically pleasing when rendered, but five years later have started to lose their appeal or function. If we can visualise how a building may look in the future, this will encourage better decision-making within the early stages of a project build and ultimately improve success rates.

  • And as well improving our ability to visualise the outcome of a project, could the incorporation of virtual reality also save time and money?

Yes I definitely think so. A landlord or tenant could potentially predict the maintenance costs of a building using sophisticated VR tools, which would be able to tell them that these particular windows will cost this much to clean every year, for example. Referring back to my last point, making the right choices in product specification to begin with will save money in the long run for everyone involved, by minimising human error or poor decisions.

In fact in regards to saving time, these concepts are already being tested – ‘Improbable’, a company created by two Cambridge graduates, are in the process of creating an ultra virtual reality world by placing your building within the platform itself, to judge how it would be built and what potential bottlenecks could interrupt project timeframes. For example, it would allow you to program elements such as traffic, roads, weather – anything that is likely to cause delays during the construction process.

If a project manager or contractor could save time and even 1% of savings on a huge building project, the results would be amazing.

  • Placing virtual reality aside, what are your thoughts on augmented reality?

Augmented reality is way more complex to achieve than virtual reality due to the processing power behind it, which enables you to understand the world on a different scale by combining both our physical environment with a digital one.

Whilst it still has a way to go, this will become far more advanced and important than virtual reality and the rewards will become far greater – it has so many more real world applications.

  • So with this mind, how could augmented reality improve the construction process?

Imagine being able to have an app on your phone or ipad, where an architect or contractor can photograph a building to see who worked on that project? Or where by photographing a room to be renovated, the augmented reality app is able to measure the size of the space, analyse the dimensions of potential products you’re looking for across a wide database, and determine which product or design would work best?

On another note – although virtual reality is already being used for safety and equipment training, I think augmented reality would take this aspect to another level. Augmented reality can enhance training by using actual equipment on real sites with augmented hazards, escape points and escape routes; you could even wear a VISA to view the BIM model super-imposed onto your physical environment. The safety briefing wouldn’t even need to be done by a person – a virtual reality guy could guide the entire training process, again saving the contractor time and money.

  • How can such technologies benefit construction marketers?

As touched upon, this technology could mean that building product manufacturers could physically show their target audience the impact their product will have within any given space – both in terms of how it will function and how it will look aesthetically. The technology will enable construction marketers to provide a whole other level of  insight into the details and design of their product.

It will involve interacting with your customers in a completely different way – the amount of advertising possibilities are endless as the more apps for augmented reality become available.

However whilst I think the concept is exciting, the difficulty will be overcoming the sense of the consumer being bombarded by so much information at every turn – the world of digital means that the amount of information to absorb online is already overwhelming. Once augmented reality is implemented, this feeling will go up tenfold. For all construction marketers this presents a challenge; it will involve increasing your emotional attachment even further with your target audience in order to be heard above the noise. Regardless of all the bells and whistles augmented and virtual reality offer, having the best brand – one that is well considered, relatable and tuned in with your customers’ pain points – is ultimately the best thing you can do.

Conclusion

Above all, our interview with Harry Molyneux demonstrates that as people become more aware of how augmented and virtual reality can be implemented into more professional settings, the applications for both will continue to expand. It won’t be long before construction workers become accustomed to these technologies becoming part of their daily work routine in the near future.

And whilst it can be argued that augmented reality has a way to go, there is no doubt that it will provide project managers with shorter lead times, higher detail precision and most importantly, safer working environments.

It’s all an exciting step in the right direction to innovate and revolutionize the construction industry.

For more information on enhancing your construction marketing strategy, give us a call on 01908 671707, or view our range of free eBooks on offer here.

James Necek

About James Necek

Passionate about the power of the written word, James has spent many years honing his skills and talent to deliver creative and technical content for various clients in the construction and automotive industries. Having recently joined the Pauley Creative team this year, it’s James’ role to ensure content is managed for our clients on a daily basis.

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