New technologies will always be fascinating; they challenge the way we do things and how we experience them. This fascination is usually, in my case anyway, accompanied by grandeur visions of a technological experience so intensely fun and productive; of a marketing device that sells your business for you; of tech that could achieve ‘full automation’, a sort of enlightenment for the tech worshipper. These aspects, as well as financial or economic reasons, might be the key considerations on the level of the individual (consumer or business) for adoption of new technologies. On the industry level however, the road to adoption is always going to be a little more bumpy!
When considering the adoption of augmented reality, in this case specifically within Architecture, Engineering & Construction industries (AEC), one question the MAVRiC team had was “how applicable is AR for use in the industry?”, how well suited is it to these sectors and how can this be determined? This served as the foundation for our research paper ‘The application of Augmented Reality in the Architecture, Engineering & Construction Industry’, which was presented at the CITC-10 conference in Sri Lanka 2018 and is the focus of today’s blog post.
The research was undertaken over several months and can be broken down into the following key events: After a considered approach of first trawling through all the latest AR literature we could dig up, we used that information to identify key areas, tasks and factors associated with AR in these sectors. Then for the fun part, we got to work developing an experiment tool (read AR application) that would serve as a real (and virtual) world example of AR in use. Lastly, a survey and analysis of which would provide us the information to be able to draw conclusions from. We did this with the intention to gauge perceptions of those involved in the industry, to give us an idea of where we are at (collectively) on the map.
Experiment & Survey
The aim of the experiment and therefore, the survey, was to first determine the level of understanding and attitudes towards AR and then determine through discussion with the participant base the suitability of potential AR solutions for use across AEC.
The development of the experiment (AR App)
The requirements for the application were established prior to development and finalised after some initial testing. These were the following:
1) The hardware for the AR experience had to be commonly available, and relatively cheap.
2) The hardware had to be portable to encourage free movement.
3) [After testing we found] The experience had to be a ‘markerless’ solution; markers are cumbersome and detract from immersion with the technology.
The hardware of choice as you might have guessed was the smartphone & tablet. In software we chose ‘Layar’ (previously free, now a paid service), an application which allowed you to upload a customised 3D model, of which we designed an architectural geodesic dome for use in the experiment (see photos), and present this in augmented reality. Perhaps you can forgive us not developing our own application -it did save us time we didn’t have! – although the limitation of using someone else’s software is that it’s never a comprehensive solution to your aspirations.
In particular, the markerless approach of the application had its issues. Although the 3D model was stable on the display, without something to ‘pin’ the 3D model to a set location, it often disappeared from view when walking away from it. The goal was to be able to walk in and around the model.
Thankfully, the ‘Layar’ app at the time, this may still be an available feature, allowed modification in integrating additional scripts & API’s. Through this approach, we added GPS location data to the AR model which meant it would appear and remain in vicinity of the given coordinates.
The app provided a little interactivity in that it allowed the user to walk around and inside the 3D model, scaling to the set location which created a greater feel of immersion. Thus we ended up with an experiment tool that suited our requirements.
The survey was purposefully structured in a way (qualitatively & quantitatively), to focus on the following:
- The perceived applicability of AR towards specific tasks & project phases
- The perceived effectiveness of AR in relation to certain factors (e.g. productivity, time savings, economics, quality control)
- Overall perceptions on potential industry implementation of AR
Findings & Conclusion
From the findings of the research, the overall indication was one of optimism towards the technology: When asked if they would employ such (AR) solutions if in charge of a project, 3/4 of survey participants responded yes. When asked “Is AR a way forward for the industry?”, 93% answered Yes. Which would suggest that the general belief is that this is, or could become, a viable technology. Therefore, the next question might be…when?
In terms of obstacles toward industry adoption, the consensus was that the cost of such hardware would be the most significant factor. Additionally, the need for change and attitudes towards the technology were other key obstacles to be overcome. Perhaps this is an indication of either of two things a) that the technology still has some way to go to provide convincing solutions or b) that this shows either a reluctance or a failure to seek out and adopt alternate solutions in place of traditional approaches, which may be the case given that these industries are generally rooted in their past as much as they are focussed on building the future.
It may come of no great surprise, that design-based tasks in particular were identified as being most suitable for AR solutions. Personally, I believe this will change as the technology develops. Through integration of cloud-based data, communication with I.o.T devices etc. the visual information AR can provide may become more nuanced, widespread and useful than simple design visualisation.
Conclusion & Looking Forward:
AR is interesting in that as a concept, it has been around for many years, but only until recently has the technology become viable on a larger scale, and now beginning to take centre stage on tomorrow’s world of tech. Since this paper was written we have seen a considerable push from key technology players towards implementation of AR in both hardware and software, for example we are seeing technologies such as LiDAR becoming increasingly prominent, which is helping to progress software methods such as S.L.A.M (simultaneous localization and mapping) and Occlusion .
You can find a link to the original research paper here.
Let us know your thoughts, do you think AR is or can be anything more than a conceptual showcase in the attempt to win over customers/colleagues/friends? When do you think we might expect the industry to adopt the technology in more practical terms?