AR and VR as Building Materials

Humans have been building things for as long as anyone can remember. Many different materials were used over the centuries and millennia.  For a comparatively short time, we’ve also been using Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality as different kinds of “building materials”. But what are the advantages of using them and what can they be used for?

The probably biggest advantage of AR and VR is that you can virtually experience buildings or things which don’t even exist yet. Future buyers and renters can thus get a picture of how their place or its floor plan will look. One of the earliest developments in this area are panorama viewers. These, initially web-based viewers show 360° environments in 2D which you can navigate (on mobile) with swipe gestures or the smartphone’s gyroscope. All you need is the right app (like this one for example) in order to see how a building will fit into its surroundings when it’s finished. Of course, some post-processing has to be done, but basically you can use renderings for this kind of visualization. A more advanced application can be created with VR headsets. Due to the HMD (“head mounted display”) you get the impression that you’re standing directly in the middle of the scene. Your head movements can be tracked by sensors and you can explore the 360° images. Thus, you could even stand in your future apartment and take a good look around.

You could, however, also realize a similar concept with Augmented Reality. Either with a smartphone or AR glasses (e.g. Hololens) you can add virtual objects to your real surroundings. An advantage of AR is that the users are already standing in the place the object is going to be and so get a more realistic impression. The slight disadvantage is that most AR applications currently still need a reference image on which the building or object can be placed. But luckily, such an image can be “camouflaged” as an info board.

Marketing and Sales

For the visualization of building components or utility elements, Augmented Reality is used more often than Virtual Reality. With the help of a reference image, the objects can be placed and presented anywhere at any time. This makes AR particularly suited for the presentation of large and complex objects at trade shows. Due to the digital representation of the objects and the fact that the 3D models can be made fully-functional (e.g. opening and closing blinds or awnings), you can stand out from your competition and get more potential customers to your booth. Also, you can save space and money doing it, since reference images obviously take up a lot less space than the real products.

And Augmented Reality can (in contrast to many VR applications) not only be used for presentation purposes. AR applications can also double as sales tools, with which the sales person can visualize for example the new sun protection in the customer’s own backyard. The awning can be configured live and the fabric colors or kinds of metals used can be changed right there and then. Finally, the sales person enters the correct measurements into the app and the order is finalized and sent directly to the manufacturer. The customers can make sure the new sun protection matches the patio furniture and save a lot of time as well.

If you don’t (only) want to set store on mobile technologies and are looking to reach as broad a range of people as possible, you can also harness the latest web technologies to provide an online 3D product configurator on your website. You can check out how those online configurators look and what they can do in our recent post by Mathias.

Maintainance

But what do you do when the product which was chosen thanks to AR stops doing what it should? Well, there are digital solutions for that as well. The service technician can just visit the customer and put on his trusty Hololens, where he will see the damaged area and information on how to fix it. They don’t need any more than that, all relevant information is projected directly onto the goggles. The advantages of this are pretty obvious: by directly highlighting the error, you can save valuable time in not having to look for it.

Further, AR and VR can play an important role in training new employees. With AR/VR-training, certain work processes can be tried virtually, so they can be more easily and effectively put into practise later. Therefore, using these technologies has the potential of making training processes more time- and cost-effective.

But why should you use these technologies instead of established ones?

Using AR and VR comes with some huge advantages, the biggest one probably being that you can see objects in their eventual surroundings before they even exist. You can decide which orientation, configuration, color and whatever else a product should have so that it matches perfectly. And with new technologies such as Google Tango or Apple’s ARKit, you don’t even need reference images – 3D objects can be placed and experienced everywhere. And you can randomly change your position without losing sight of them. This makes for a whole host of new possibilities for practical Augmented Reality applications.

This independence of location is definitely an advantage AR has over VR. Through VR’s massive hardware requirements, it doesn’t work for every use case. For now, you are always tied to a computer for running VR applications. The immersion into Virtual Reality, however, is greater than with Augmented Reality. And, of course, AR also needs some sort of software for recognizing reference images or the 3D surroundings and placing the digital objects. Thus, the user has to download an app from one of the app stores to use it.

A further advantage of both technologies is their potential to be a huge time saver. With 3D configurators, you can discuss and implement instant changes without constantly drawing new plans. And when you finished you can create the plans from the software. You can tailor a building’s measurements exactly to its surroundings and create an initial drawing within your app, thereby potentially jumping multiple steps and iterations, allowing you to complete your assignment faster.

Whether you want to use AR or VR is something you can decide according to your individual needs. Both have their pros and cons, but you can’t deny that AR and VR are suitable building materials for a new age in the construction and industrial sectors. This type of digitalization will make construction and building faster and more cost-effective and design factors like a building’s influence on the cityscape can be visualized and considered even better than now.