espite the Government’s push to establish Building Information Modelling (BIM) as central to future construction projects, the technology is still struggling for take up. Many in the industry are still not seeing its positive impacts and focusing instead on the perceptions that it is more red tape and cost in the building process.
Virtual reality, meanwhile, is being increasingly viewed with interest across the construction sector’s value chain for its potential impact in areas such as planning, visualisation, collaboration, decision-making, sales and marketing as well as training. Strangely, what the industry is failing to do is connect the dots between VR and BIM. The reality is that VR has the ability to transform BIM into a major asset and source of added value for construction companies, and could be the technology that helps unlock the promises that BIM has yet to be seen to deliver on.
One of the key advantages that VR provides is the ability to better visualise and display exactly what buildings and environments will look like. While we’ve had this with 3D modelling by combining VR with BIM the visualisations become immersive and accurate. This allows the industry to move away from traditional modelling, and instead create something that is more user-friendly and more accessible across all the stakeholders in a build.
How you interact with a VR space is where the major advances in technology will occur in the next few years and, as such, where we could see it opening BIM up further. Many of the VR tools used at the moment are built on current platforms – and the technology behind them is changing fast. By combining cloud-based technology with VR and BIM, the creation of those visualisations can be automated. This same technology also allows these models to be modified and adapted easily, from structural issues such as increasing corridor width or moving access points to cosmetic issues such as adding furniture, moving lighting, colouring walls and changing flooring.
But, probably more importantly, these VR experiences can be viewed on any platform and in particular mobile devices. This potentially is as big a shift for the construction industry as the advent of the iPhone was to the telecoms sector, as it puts VR models in the hands of everyone across the industry value chain.
Combining VR with BIM in this way also allows developers to start the sales and marketing process as early as possible. On top of this, it opens new areas of the value chain in facilities management, smart retail solutions, simulations, health and safety and, right at the consumer end, 3D e-commerce. VR can provide the platform for sales and marketing to collaborate with planning and facilities management and can take the process right the way through to end-users buying furniture for apartments or offices.
This vision of how VR can change the industry is not without its challenges; it is a heavily disruptive technology that challenges areas within the construction industry across the board. However, the reality is that combining BIM with an automated and scalable VR platform can allow developers to do things faster, smarter and with higher quality. This is a real enabler for change in the sector.