The Future of Virtual and Augmented Reality in Construction.
Our Director, Niall Campion speaks to The Construction Federation Magazine about the company’s growth and the potential for Ireland to become a VR and AR hub.
In terms of adoption, what changes have you seen in the Irish market in the past 12 months?
I think we’re still in early days in terms of adoption both when speaking generally about immersive technologies but specifically in the construction industry. In VRAI we work across a variety of sectors and have found construction to be an interesting one in terms of technology adoption. Larger companies seem to be already embracing it through their own in-house R&D divisions. Once headsets become more prevalent and affordable we think there’ll be a broader uptake. At the moment the barrier to entry for a builder without an R&D division is probably quite high.
What to you see in the coming 12 to 24 months?
In terms of the immersive media industry as a whole, there will be two big developments over the next year or so. Firstly the release of stand-alone headsets by the likes of Oculus, scheduled for the start of 2018 will go some way towards putting headsets in more peoples hands. Tech companies talk about ‘gifting prices’ – making a product affordable enough to be given as a present. At €250-€300 for a self-contained unit, this starts to become a possibility. And the more these headsets are in peoples hands, the more comfortable they’ll be using them, the more we’ll see them working their way into industries like construction.
The second big change, and really it’s happening already, is the development of augmented reality. When Apple and Google announced core support for augmented reality almost 2 billion people came into possession of augmented reality capable devices almost overnight. Companies like Ikea are already using its functionality in their AR app which gives us a glimpse of the power of being able to place virtual objects in the real world. We see great potential for augmented reality in the construction industry, particularly when combined with accurate survey data and we think that there’ll be some interesting developments in this area over the next 12-24 months.
Which of your products/services are most in demand?
We’re increasingly being contacted around consultancy for medium-to-large organisations who have heard about virtual reality and augmented reality but don’t really know where to start or how to go about implementing it into their current workflows or systems. We love talking technology and particularly how it can be used to solve practical problems. I think this is probably the most valuable service we’re providing at the moment.
What is coming down the line?
We’re always looking at new, cutting-edge products and trying to find ways to use them to solve problems. We recently took delivery of a Meta 2 Development Kit. The Meta 2 is an augmented reality headset that offers a much better field of view to anything else currently on the market and we’re looking forward to playing with it a bit.
In terms of VR, we’re looking to build on our current offerings. We think there’s real value in off-plan selling using VR, a product we’ve been developing for a few months now – we just haven’t cracked the combination of the right client with the right project yet!
What companies/project are you products services being used?
“We’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of the biggest companies and brands in Ireland over the past 12 months. We’ve done a lot of work with The Defence Forces and the ESB, which for some reason always surprises people. They’re both always looking for new and interesting ways to innovate and we’ve hopefully helped them with a couple of interesting VR experiences. We’re also doing a lot of international work at the moment – we’re just back from a trip to Vietnam where we were filming and on Friday we’re off to Somalia to do a big project with the UN which we’re equally excited and terrified about. In spite of our work with the Defence Forces, we’ve never actually been to an active war zone.”
What is the biggest barrier to companies accessing your products?
“I think there’s probably 2 areas when it comes to barriers to access in a general sense. The first one is probably cost. VR isn’t suitable for every project and because what we do is bespoke, customised and delivered to a high standard generally, there isn’t always the budget available. We’re lucky that we’ve got more work than we can do at the moment though so it’s not really a factor for us at the moment. We’re also constantly looking at ways of innovating to bring the cost of production down, but ultimately it comes down to highly skilled operators putting in the hours. We’d always say though come and talk to us, it’s probably not as expensive as you think.
The other problem we face, and this is generally an issue we’ve faced before we were working in immersive media is that people don’t know that there are Irish companies doing what we do. They often assume that to get access to cutting-edge technologies they have to be talking to agencies in London or New York. We try to get the message out that we’re here and eager to talk about projects. It’s why events like the CIF conferences are so important to us.”
How do you address this?
“By getting out and talking to people mostly. But there are only so many people you can talk to over the course of a working week, so attending conferences like this are great for us. We get to talk directly to customers who might not have heard about us before, find out what their problems are, and think of ways to address them in a more casual environment than a c-suite presentation. We always come away buzzing with new ideas.”
What advice do you have for contractors looking to use technology to improve their delivery process?
“My biggest piece of advice is don’t limit your ideas. Don’t think something is impossible without speaking to someone like ourselves as you’d be amazed what can be done. There is a multitude of off the shelf solutions that can plug directly into existing BIM software, some of which we can licence. And talk to us obviously!”