Extended reality technologies, like augmented and mixed reality, are becoming increasingly important to businesses across various industries. The extended reality market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 57.91% from 2023 to 2028, and the construction industry is one of the biggest drivers of this growth.
Understanding the difference between each technology can help you discern the best solution for your construction company.
What Is Extended Reality?
Extended reality (XR) is a broad term that includes three different types of immersive digital experiences:
- Virtual reality
- Augmented reality
- Mixed reality
Although XR technologies are only beginning to see widespread use, the concept has been in development since the 19th century. Sir Charles Wheatstone invented the stereoscope, an early pair of 3D glasses, in 1838 — the basic concept behind the goggles is still used to make XR experiences appear more realistic.
These three experiences span the virtuality spectrum from the real world, which is completely physical, to the digital world, which is completely virtual. Virtual reality (VR) sits on the digital end of the spectrum. Augmented reality (AR), which simply adds digital assets to physical settings, is close to the opposite end. Mixed reality (MR) sits firmly in the middle, blending the two together.
What Is Virtual Reality?
VR is a highly immersive XR technology that lets users enter a completely digital environment. It was the first XR experience to become publicly available with the Google Cardboard headset in 2015, and the technology has developed dramatically since its release.
When a user puts on a VR headset, they enter a computer-generated environment. Using either body-tracking sensors or hand controllers, the user can move around and interact with objects in the virtual world. However, they never interact with physical objects outside the simulation.
Common applications for VR in field use include:
- Training simulations.
- Virtual building walkthroughs.
- 3D modeling.
- BIM adaptation.
What Is Augmented Reality?
AR is a form of XR that adds digital elements to the real world using computer vision, mapping, and depth tracking. Through these capabilities, the technology can read information from your physical environment and determine where to position the digital elements.
One of the best examples is the AR mobile phone game Pokémon GO, which burst onto the market in 2016 with massive success. The app uses the phone's camera to superimpose a virtual monster onto the player's surroundings, which they can interact with through their phone.
The AR market has developed rapidly over the past few years, and technology is becoming more accessible to businesses in various industries. Some common commercial applications include virtual fitting rooms, immersive advertising, and employee training programs.
In the construction industry, AR has been useful for on-site visualization, clash detection, quality control, and the ability to see into enclosed spaces, such as walls and ceilings.
What Is the Difference Between Virtual and Augmented Reality?
Although VR and AR are often used interchangeably, they're very different technologies. Here are the key differences between the two:
- Immersion: VR is fully immersive, meaning it places the user in a completely digital environment — in this environment, VR users never interact with real objects. AR is less immersive in that it allows users to interact with the real world through a digital lens.
- Hardware requirements: VR requires a specialized headset and, for certain applications, a set of hand controllers. Although no headgear is needed for AR, it still requires a handheld or machine-mounted device to run.
- Collaboration: Due to device limitations, VR content can only be used by one person at a time. However, cloud-based AR software enables multiple users to view and edit the same content simultaneously from different devices.
- Environment: AR is generally more versatile than VR. While VR experiences are only suitable for use in controlled environments due to safety risks, AR technology can be used anywhere.
Because VR has more technical limitations, AR is often more suitable for field use. However, neither technology is truly hands-free, which can make completing hands-on tasks more difficult. A solution that combines the two is best for those situations.
What Is Mixed Reality?
MR, sometimes called “hybrid reality,” is similar to AR in that it uses data from the user's surroundings to add interactive digital elements to the physical world. However, it would be better to consider MR as an extension of AR that seamlessly blends the real and the digital.
Like VR technology, MR requires users to wear a headset or glasses, such as the Microsoft HoloLens. This gear enables them to see and interact with the digital part of the experience. However, MR does not require additional controllers, allowing hands-free operation.
Here are some of the concepts behind MR experiences:
- Environmental understanding: MR technology takes input from cameras and maps the physical environment. It also uses anchors to attach digital elements to real objects. For example, a user could look at their job site and the headset would provide visual progress charts for each part of the building.
- Body awareness: Using eye tracking, hand tracking, and vocal commands, MR technology can understand how a user moves and predict the intent behind their actions.
- Spatial sound: Many MR technologies use surround sound to make the experience more realistic. For example, an MR training simulation might use spatial sound to help the user maintain focus on the task at hand.
- 3D digital assets: MR places 3D computer-generated models, or holograms, in the real environment. Users can interact with these assets through hand motions or speech input.
MR is still in the early stages of development, though many industries have begun adopting it. Many construction companies have become early adopters and have realized significant benefits from its use.
What Is the Difference Between Augmented and Mixed Reality?
AR and MR are very similar in that they both use a combination of digital and physical assets. However, MR is more immersive than AR. Here's how the two compare in the field:
- Immersion: MR is more immersive than AR because it fuses the physical and digital worlds. AR simply adds a digital overlay to the real environment. However, MR is not like VR because it still includes interaction with the physical world.
- Hardware requirements: While AR experiences require a handheld or machine-mounted device, MR users must wear a headset or specialized glasses. As a result, MR is better suited for hands-free work.
- Collaboration: AR and MR both allow real-time collaboration between users, whether they are using the technology in the field or reviewing project data in real-time from the office.
- Environment: While both AR and MR are suitable for use both indoors and outdoors, both technologies are better suited for indoor use due to their ability to create better spatial maps for improved tracking and navigation.
Ultimately, the difference comes down to interactivity. MR allows users to interact with both digital and physical objects, which creates a realistic, immersive experience that blurs the line between the real and the digital. AR simply adds a digital overlay to the real world.
The Benefits of Extended Reality for Construction
The construction industry is one of the biggest drivers of the MR market growth. Companies that adopt the technology early are more likely to gain an edge over their competitors as it becomes more mainstream.
Some of the other benefits construction companies can gain from XR technologies include the following:
Enhances Project Collaboration
Cloud capabilities in the XR software let stakeholders view project data from anywhere in the world. Field workers can capture live video and AR photos onsite, and project owners can provide feedback in real-time using annotation tools.
These features eliminate the need to send documents back and forth for approval, reducing delays and keeping projects moving according to schedule.
XR technology can reduce project delays and streamline processes, making your company more efficient and cost-effective.
MR brings project plans to life for key stakeholders. For example, a project owner or investor could use an MR headset to examine a hologram of a planned building in its intended location. This capability can help you gain approval faster and ensure you meet project specs.
AI-enhanced MR technology can also help make project planning and execution easier by predicting the data users need and displaying it in a simple-to-understand hologram. For example, a user could look at a drawing of a building and the software could provide up-to-the minute progress charts or a 3D model of the building.
Implementing XR technology in the early stages of a construction project can result in significant savings for your organization.
According to one case study published in Builder Magazine, VR technology can save companies up to 90% of pre-construction costs by eliminating the need for expensive physical mock-ups. It can also improve project model accuracy, which can resolve issues early and reduce the need for later rework.
XR training programs can also help reduce costs. VR and AR training simulations are more cost-effective than longer onsite training programs, which saves your company money on training and onboarding. Additionally, safety training reduces risk, which can mitigate some of the costs associated with workplace accidents.
In some cases, having advanced technology on your site can help your company attract and retain more employees. Younger demographics used to using digital technology often look for companies that use modern solutions.
Technology also signals safer workplace practices, which can make people feel more confident in your company's ability to handle safety incidents. When employees feel safe on the job, they're more likely to stay with your company for longer, which can reduce hiring costs.
First-person XR training simulations can also streamline the onboarding and training process so you can get your new hires onsite faster.
Improves Employee Safety
The construction industry has already been using XR technologies to improve site safety for several years. VR and MR can be used to great effect in employee safety training programs. For example, you can reduce costs by training heavy equipment operators on VR simulations of their machinery before moving on to hands-on learning in the real thing.
You can also create a digital twin of your workplace and train employees on it using an MR simulation. Employees can walk through the site and respond to computer-generated events as though they were happening in real life. This can help employees feel more confident in their ability to prevent and manage real safety incidents, which can help mitigate risks.
BPSE Mixed Reality Solutions
If you're considering implementing new technology, BuildingPoint SouthEast can help you find the right solutions for your company. Our integrated hardware and software solutions help you leverage MR technology to improve processes, save time and reduce costs.
The Trimble XR10 with HoloLens 2 combines the Microsoft HoloLens 2 with an industry-standard hardhat. It is the only such solution that has received certification for use in construction environments.
Key features include:
- Expanded field of view: The HoloLens 2 offers an industry-leading 43-degree field of view, providing a comprehensive view of your entire project.
- Intuitive operation: Using retina scanning and hand and eye tracking, the HoloLens 2 understands the user's intent and adapts digital content in real-time. This technology lets the user navigate and interact with holograms in a way that feels natural.
- Long battery life: The headset's battery lasts for five to six hours, so you can bring it onsite without needing to break it for a charge.
- Untethered Windows 10 PC: The HoloLens software runs on the Microsoft Windows Operating System (OS), which eliminates the steep learning curve that is so common when adopting new technology. A wireless, or untethered, connection gives users greater freedom in moving about the job site, allowing for more thorough examinations.
With the Trimble XR10, your employees can identify and mitigate risks before they become problems, saving your company valuable time and making your job site safer.
MR experiences require both hardware and software to work properly. These MR solutions integrate with the Trimble XR10 to provide a seamless interface.
Trimble Connect for HoloLens is a cloud-based solution that helps stakeholders stay up-to-date on project progress by sharing, storing, and organizing project data via the internet. Everyone involved in your project can view and review models with real-time updates, connecting the design and construction processes. This streamlines your project to keep progress moving according to your timeline and budget.s
MR can also help streamline project planning by letting you visualize the layout in its intended context. Trimble FieldLink MR lets users visualize project data directly on the job site. It integrates with your existing Trimble-based layout equipment so you don't need to invest in any additional technology. Additionally, real-time clash detection capabilities help companies reduce rework and resolve errors before they arise.
Take Advantage of Mixed Reality Solutions From BPSE
At BuildingPoint SouthEast, we help construction professionals streamline key project processes in the best ways for their companies. Our mixed reality solutions for construction help companies cut costs and save time while maintaining a strong commitment to safety.