Immersive technologies offer the construction industry a host of opportunities - from potential training and education applications through to taking 3D modelling to the next level and revolutionising customer experiences. But what does this mean in practical terms, and how can construction companies embrace these new technologies?
Digital Construction Week (October 2017) gave us the perfect platform to investigate the possibilities of immersive technologies in a practical way. We partnered with i3P to invite eleven leading immersive technology companies to pitch their solutions to three of the biggest challenges facing today's infrastructure providers. The companies were given five days to prepare their pitches, which were delivered in front of a live audience during Digital Construction Week.
The challenges and solutions
the Heathrow Airport Challenge: improving productivity using immersive technologies
The world’s busiest international airport has invested £11 billion in the last 15 years and is about to embark on the £16 billion Heathrow Expansion project that will see passengers grow from 75 million to 140 million per annum. With plans to build a new runway and terminal, it’s one of the largest infrastructure projects in the UK. The challenge is to improve productivity, work collaboratively and engage supply chains in the most effective way by using immersive technology to drive key production elements off site.
Four high tech options were presented including cloud hosting streaming real-time project updates; applying 3D simulators and visualisation to create virtual spaces for site planning; creating a space where project teams can collaborate within a virtual environment; and using HoloLens technology to enable more effective collaboration and communication.
- Showcasing a platform used by infrastructure clients including Bryden Wood, Andrew Norris explained how 3D Repo technology allows the user to upload BIM models to the 3D Repo timeline in the cloud, where they are processed and equipped with 4D properties. Delivered back to the user as a 4D model, accessible worldwide, and also enabled in AR/VR through a VR kit, changes made to the model during the working process are also live updated.
- Serious Games International demonstrated the application of 3D simulation and visualisation in the infrastructure environment. Current projects include the digital representation of a virtual motorway to plan construction and component design for Highways England, demonstrating synergy with the Heathrow requirements.
- Pitching to create the ‘ultimate collaboration zone’, Igloo Vision’s Jake Rowland pointed to the crucial aspect of shared VR in this challenge, where immersion and visualisation are key, as well as providing the technology to allow teams to ‘stand inside’ the project. Installing an ‘igloo’ at the hub of logistics operations to bring partners into a shared space has fundamentally changed working processes for their clients, enhancing productivity and efficiency.
- Self-described HoloLens evangelist, FULCRO’s Dr Max Mallia-Parfitt, introduced the FULmax product suite including FULmax CUBE and CURVE, Microsoft HoloLens, AR apps and 360° video, designed to improve project communication and training, saving time and money. With the CUBE designed to fit teams of up to six people, it allows collaborators full immersion inside a project model, to think ‘inside the box’ and step inside the data.
Speaking after the presentations, Rob Ewen from Heathrow commended the pitches as ‘tremendous’. And he confirmed that as Heathrow starts its journey to create new passenger journeys, he will be following up conversations with the presenters.
Kier Group Challenge: rehearsing using immersive technologies
The challenge is how can VR/AR/MR help to make working environments safer by enabling more effective staff training in a standardised and safe way across their many sites?
Four diverse approaches were presented, including creating training zone experiences inspired by TV and film production techniques; using 360° videos for staff training; building immersive VR scenarios; and working with soundscapes.
- Parable VR’s storytelling technology has created immersive experiences for film and TV companies and pitched to improve safety outcomes for the Kier Group challenge by creating training zone experiences that combine ‘real time’ immersive task-based activities with 360°narrative film learning modules. Goals-focused training zones would include an active and learning zones as well as bespoke zones, custom-created for specific work sites.
- Offering fast turnaround and low cost, Andy Kearney from Clicks and Links presented a suite of AR, VR, MR and 360° video training options, adaptable to specific projects depending on requirement. Citing a recent collaboration with the Co-Op group that offered offline training through 360° video as a relatively low-cost and flexible option, built-in performance analysis recorded measurement of success.
- With a background developing games and experiences for VR, AR and traditional platforms, Kuju’s clients include Sony, Disney and Microsoft. Mick Morris explained how the depth of the company’s knowledge would be brought to bear in creating believable, immersive and accurate training scenarios for Kier. VR training in key skills would take place in a safe environment, using social VR for team interaction and AR or MR to visualise BIM and site models.
- Focusing on audio technology, Garry Haywood from Kinicho demonstrated how sound is a critically important part of immersive projects that are often overlooked but helps with engagement in a virtual environment. With a suite of services ranging from sound design to post-production, Kinicho can recreate realistic virtual spaces for clients, for example in simulated Crossrail tunnels, that make for effective learning experiences.
Outcome: Mark Austin from Kier Group praised the presentations for showcasing ‘the art of the possible’ and opening his eyes to ‘where we can go from here’. He confirmed that he found the pitches extremely helpful in providing context around practical applications of each technology.
CH2M Challenge: engaging stakeholders through immersive technologies
With a key aim of improving productivity and reducing cost, CH2M wants to host stakeholder engagement sessions using technology to design in an immersive environment and collect real time feedback in a semi or fully automated way.
Solutions: From 3D modelling through PC or mobile applications; to building an immersive content engine for multiple users; as well as a platform that creates immersive interactive media sessions and collaborates with all media sources from spreadsheets to streaming; the range of pitches for the final challenge offered highly differing options.
- With a legacy that includes the creation of a 16sq km virtual business park, large scale housing developments and multiple commercial and industrial sites, Spearhead Interactive demonstrated an approach that showcased visual, experiential, functional, operational and analytical solutions to the challenge. This included the use of filters to simulate user experiences, functionality to switch off walls to visualise internal infrastructure and link in documentation, data and sensor streams to create a building lifecycle modelling tool.
- Constructive Labs’ immersive content engine allows its users to create and manipulate a virtual project experience for multiple stakeholders using cloud-based VR, on a platform that can be re-used and re-scaled. The company’s previous projects include virtual architectural sites and TV production sets that were built by creative people without specialist VR knowledge.
- Mechdyne hardware, software and services are designed to increase collaborator productivity on a platform that creates immersive interactive media sessions, which can be captured and recorded, collaborating with visual data and media sources that include everything from paper spreadsheets to visual streaming, all customisable to meet different requirements.
Outcome: Speaking afterwards, Matt Montgomery said he was open to project collaboration and is interested in working further with teams on this. He was particularly interested in the idea of platforms that could incorporate many different types of display and documents, including text documents, into the mix.
Where do we go from here?
The consensus in the room by the end of the fast-paced, information-rich session was that immersive tech is the next major technological step in improving delivery and operation of the built environment. This type of technology, along with advances in other digital technologies, are heralding a paradigm shift leading to more collaborative approaches and improved productivity.
The next step is to evolve these technologies so they move from being the quirky gadget offered as an additional service to becoming the BAU tool recognised by the industry as adding value. I3P and Immerse UK are established to support innovative technologies like these and would welcome engagement with suppliers to connect them to clients like our three challenge owners for this event.