Contractors and owners: Want to know what your project will look like before it is built? BIM (building information modeling) is just the beginning. Imagine being able to actually step into your model. Augmented reality is the next big technology that will help the construction industry go inside the design and visualize the building.

AR (augmented reality) refers to the process of laying computer-generated graphics onto real-world images in realtime. There are two types: GPS/compass-based AR and vision-based AR. With GPS and location-based technologies, technology originally developed for video and mobile games is combined with positioning software to create new areas of application for construction planning and design.

Vision-based AR uses a device’s camera as a lens through which you can experience an augmented world. To achieve this, a device must process each video frame coming off the camera sensor, compare it with data stored locally or in the cloud, find an object that matches the one in the frame, calculate the device’s relative position to that object, and then draw graphics that appear on top of it.

The technology is being used in education, retail, and healthcare, to name a few markets. It is now finding a home in construction. The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, www.vtt.fi, Oulu, Finland, is such one institution making inroads specifically in the construction industry.

Examples of recent applications include virtual presentations of a tower block and a projected hotel to city officials in the decision-making process. The VTT-developed technology was used to place of sketch of the building in its natural environment. Charles Woodward, research professor, VTT, says the technology brings new opportunities to the whole team involved with construction planning.

He says, “Using this technique, the overall concept can take shape at the proper scale and far more realistically than with the 3D imagery and modeling of traditional design software. Although principally a design tool, augmented reality is also a tool for communication, one that can be used to disseminate a more realistic picture of construction projects in support of resident feedback and decision making.”

Other potential uses in the construction industry include property maintenance and services and design of HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems.

Woodward says the technology can enable a “see-through” application for mapping the position of plumbing and ventilation systems behind the walls and panels. This allows teams to observe any changes by comparing the on-site situation with information that has already been recorded.

Is augmented reality the next big thing for visualization and clash detection? Only time will tell as the technology progresses and begins to touch multiple facets of construction.