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8 Ways Augmented and Mixed Reality Improves Remote Collaboration and Worker Safety

Physically, much of the world has remained the same as it was before the pandemic.

But, if you’re anything like me, the way you move through the world has been completely transformed. How I spend my time, the details I notice, and what I care about are not the same as they were even just a few months ago. And, flaws and opportunities that were once unknown seem glaringly obvious to me now. 

It reminds me of the first time I looked at a jobsite through a mixed reality headset. Standing on a freshly poured slab, I was able to see an entire engineering project finished — long before construction began. Yes, my feet remained firmly planted in the same world they had always been in, but my eyes showed me something completely different. 

With remote collaboration during COVID-19 and social distancing in construction now our reality, I see many companies turning to mixed reality and augmented reality technologies for a better way to accomplish the same complex workflows that have always, and will always, exist in construction. 

Virtual reality augmented reality mixed reality what's the difference in construction

Planning, construction, and inspections don’t have to come to a standstill — technology in the construction industry has moved past the theoretical and into a practical enabler that enhances and improves the way you already work. With these extended reality solutions and a wifi connection in the field and back at the office, at home, or even a Starbucks, it is still possible to effectively collaborate, save time, and be productive on projects. 

While many virtual, mixed, and augmented reality collaboration use cases exist, I want to highlight a few we are seeing as essential to keeping workers and job sites safe. 

1. Environment Visualization & Sharing. With COVID-19 hotspots popping up across the world, business travel restricted, and more people working from home than ever, onsite group meetings are now often seen as risky and unnecessary. Site view sharing makes it possible to share common extended reality views using personal devices with social distancing, or to send out a live extended reality view of a jobsite to anywhere in the world — meaning group work can get done, even while limiting the number of people who need to physically be together. 

With new camera and screen sharing technologies, it is possible to hold virtual meetings where everyone can see onsite issues with their own eyes and discuss how to proceed from the safety of their own home or office. A sub out on a job and a project manager in the office can see the same thing at the same time, comparing plans with the actual work. A lone engineer can use her mobile device to show offsite design teams models and clashes directly in the field.

2. Hands-Free Collaboration. By combining a mixed reality headset, Connect for HoloLens and Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, workers in the field can call anyone in the office, share files, view real-world environments together, make annotations, comments, and drawings, and view overlay BIM data for design versus as-built comparisons — all with the touch of one button.

3. Capture and Share Designs, Models, and Videos with Clients Remotely. The pandemic has moved many extended reality tools from “nice to have” to “must have.” Showing a client exactly how their project is coming together has always been a key to success on construction projects. Now, we’re seeing that companies have a huge competitive advantage if they can do things like: 

  • Remotely walk a client through a job site in real-time
  • Place different design suggestions on a site, take a screenshot, and present the result
  • Send clients a video with issues circled and annotated.

Even internally at Trimble, we've been using the XR10 and Microsoft Dynamics Remote Assist so our global facility site manager working out of New Zealand can keep tabs on the progress on a new office building located in the United States.

4. Safe, Efficient Training and Support. Extended reality can be useful in direct training, on-site guidance and collaboration. Using hands-free, mixed reality headsets, workers in the field can train with offsite experts. By not having to be onsite all the time, seasoned employees can help at multiple sites at once. And, when complex assemblies are required in the field, mixed reality can deliver “sequencing” instructions directly into field-workers’ headsets. 

As Matthew Robinson, VP of Pitt Meadows explains, “It’s [Trimble XR10 with HoloLens] actually helping the next generation of plumbers understand how to install what they’re installing. We’ve been able to connect our virtual world to the physical world, so we’re advancing them at least 10 years in the trade with these tools.” 

5. Remote Project Management. Coordinating tasks when teams are working in staggered shifts, distanced teams, and from remote locations can be challenging. Extended reality solutions like Trimble SiteVision come with to-do and measurement functions that allow you to take photos that combine an AR view of the design in the context of current jobsite views and attach virtual “sticky-notes” to assign tasks to another field or office worker. The photos you take and to-do’s you create are saved in the cloud, and are automatically georeferenced with position information. 

6. Help Employees Manage Workloads. Show your crew what needs to be done at the beginning of each day. You can walk around the site just as you normally would in a morning review, and your workers can follow along and ask questions from their home or car, the field office or at an appropriate distance. 

7. Cut Down on Meetings. Using extended reality technologies gives field workers a crisper, zero-room-for-interpretation view of what is going to be built. Providing a constructible, easy-to-comprehend model reduces the need for those onsite mental model alignment sessions — you know, those ones where the architect or general contractor has to come down to explain to a sub how something is supposed to work. 

8. Remote Design Review. Start doing office-to-office (or home-to-office or home-to-Starbucks) co-located design reviews instead of asking teams to take on the risk of traveling. Get earlier stakeholder buy-in at each stage of the construction process without having to gather around drawings or scale models, or sit through powerpoint slides. 

Keeping yourself and your teams free from illness is the goal. But, you’ll find that using augmented and mixed reality tools to complement your workflows and enable workers to get more value out of BIM data will end up transforming how effective your teams can be. In fact, you just might end up seeing your business in a different way.

Check out the latest on using extended reality to boost productivity and profitability with our latest ebook, Level Up Your BIM Game with Mixed Reality.