Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality in Construction

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Following on from our article on Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, we’re looking at how these can be leveraged by the construction industry.


Virtual Reality is the technology that is most in use now.  A number of contractors and professional teams are using BIM (Building Information Modelling) to provide a virtual walk through of the construction project and enable the owners to manage ongoing maintenance.  We will talk through BIM in more detail in another article.


The most widely known of the VR applications is the use of 3D walk throughs to sell property – a number of estate agents offer this functionality for general residential and commercial sales and rental.  In addition, this 3D VR modelling is used to pitch to clients to win architectural projects.


The newer uses of the VR technology are being pioneered by some forward thinking organisations.  They include using VR to undertake site safety training – for site safety and also for operating heavy machinery.  The hazards of the site can be easily communicated to operatives and visitors, in a safe manner, thereby reducing accidents on site.


In the US, Mortensen Construction has been using VR to assist in the construction of a new medical facility.  Using immersive VR with headsets enables the surgeons and key operational staff see exactly how the operating room will be setup and function and can identify issues and required changes before construction begins.  It is obviously far more cost-effective to identify these issues before building has begun and, possibly more importantly, it is much easier for the end user / client to visualise than the more traditional use of cut outs on the floor!


Augmented Reality, on the other hand, is at a much earlier stage in it’s adoption.  There are a number of factors that contribute to this including:

  • Health & Safety concern of site staff and visitors using augmented reality to walk round the site – there is a real risk that they will be too immersed and miss hazards.
  • AR requires a large data repository and, traditionally, data connections on site are not large enough to cope with the necessary download of data.
  • Complexity of tracking data – in order for AR to work successfully it has to know exactly where you are and what you’re looking at.  On a construction site the detail can change on a daily basis and it can be difficult to find positions for tracking ‘landmarks’ that will be consistent throughout the project.


Notwithstanding these issues, there are a number of benefits of AR technology that could have a very positive impact on the construction industry.  For example, using AR to superimpose the mechanical and electrical systems onto the structure will highlight clashes and issues that are not evident from the drawings, or from a BIM model.  It would also ensure that site measurements are accurate and will reduce the instance of error.


Bechtel and Crossrail have completed trial use of AR for Custom House Station using it to track the installation progress of the pre-fabricated super-structure components.  The application was developed by Bechtel Infrastructure.  The current implementation costs are meaning that it will be very expensive to scale up to widespread use.


Technology development within AR is moving rapidly and more products are being released on a regular basis.  It is likely that specific construction-centric products will need to be developed to realise it’s full potential.


If you would like to discover more and you’re not already on our mailing list, join today for insights and development on how Buildupp wants to change the construction industry.  Is your organisation using or exploring VR & AR?  What are the key barriers to uptake? Join the conversation at Buildupp.

  • Jessica Jin

    Hi Harry,

    We love all the writing you’ve done on VR in the construction industry. We’re a community for RICOH THETA developers, and we’re holding a free 360° Technology in Construction webinar for the public next Tuesday with Holobuilder, StructionSite, and Cupix as panelists, and we were wondering if you could help spread the word to reach more people excited about construction and VR?

    Here’s a link to more information:

    We’re also happy to promote your article in our community.

    Thanks, we really appreciate it.

    • Harry

      Hi Jessica,

      I don’t get to check these blog comments much, sorry I didn’t get back sooner. Please drop me an email at if you have any enquiries in the future.


  • Alex

    Hi Harry,

    I’m carrying out a University Dissertation regarding “An Investigation into how Virtual Reality can Manage Variations on Construction Projects”.

    I love the literature you’ve published VR and would be fantastic if you would be happy being part of a short interview based on the matter?

    If you’re interested, please email or alternatively leave your email and I’ll happily be in touch.

    Yours sincerely,


    • Harry

      Hi Alex,

      Thanks for the message and great to hear about your dissertation. I’ll drop you an email and arrange getting in touch.