Virtual Reality: the latest technological evolution rapidly changing most industries today.
What is it?
Virtual Reality (VR), or computer-simulated reality, is a computer technology that replicates an environment, real or imagined, and simulates a user’s physical presence within that environment in a way that allows the user to interact with it*.
Virtual Reality is the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors**.
In the context of building & construction, Virtual Reality’s major play is in design. Virtual Reality enables a developer to take a virtual tour of a proposed construction – akin to literally walking through the development – in a real-life (or as close to real life) experience before the shovel hits the dirt. The result for the construction company or developer is to ‘experience’ the final product, in all elements of spatial, design, light, flow and functionality. This is a major game-changer.
The real potential is for Virtual Reality to reduce project conflict across the multiple parties involved, to boost productivity, to speed up construction and deliver a better quality result, means Virtual Reality looks like it’s here to stay.
Upon experiencing the proposed development within the Virtual Reality environment, construction companies can make informed decisions about the use of light, materials, allocations of partitions and walls, and they can change or reconfigure layout to better meet the client’s specifications, and to deliver a better solution for the client. The other obvious benefits arise from project planning capabilities: more accurate specifications of materials required for a project; better workforce planning for project delivery; more insightful decision making for environmental impact. The list goes on.
Universities in Australia are starting to make a significant curriculum change by engaging all that Virtual Reality has to offer. Deakin University in Victoria recently launched what it calls its Virtual Reality ‘CAVE’ – a seriously exciting opportunity for design & architecture students to experience design errors or flaws, for the purpose of recommending an alternative, better solutions. At an experiential level, this has huge potential for student learning and development.
Other developments at a tertiary level are the increasing use of ‘Situation Engine’ – where users can experience a variety of proposed project or ‘on site’ situations within the Virtual Reality environment, to again make better design, construction and development decisions. The Australian universities deploying this technology include UNSW, University of SA, and UWS. And perhaps most importantly, is the impact Virtual Reality will have on the safety of construction projects. With the opportunity for improved training and OH&S knowledge, workers can learn and experience new construction techniques and solutions, in an experiential way, before being on-site. This alone could vastly change the behaviour of workers over time, improving safety and project productivity.
One of the perceptive shortcomings of Virtual Reality is the fact that it’s borne from gaming and thus can be seen as somewhat ‘gimmicky’. In what is (or was) perhaps an ‘old school’ industry, the ‘new tricks’ of Virtual Reality can be confronting for building & construction companies, making it hard to embrace and easily dismissed. But only for the short-sighted, given Virtual Reality’s game-changing potential to revolutionize the industry. The construction industry is known to be late-to-technology but now, seeing the impact of Virtual Reality (and BIM), there’s evidently a genuine needs-based situation at play in Australia, for builders to get on board.