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Angry Birds. Warcraft. Minecraft. Since the advent of the digital revolution, it seems that there's an iconic new computer game coming out every five minutes. And the hottest by far these days is Pokémon Go. This game takes characters from the perennially popular Japanese "pocket monster" sensation and has players try to track them down on a hunt. The "weapon" used on this particular safari is the camera embedded in a player's smartphone. Players track Pokémon characters out of doors, comparing an on-screen map to real life locations. Augmented reality (AR) technology takes control of the phone's camera at certain phases of the game, and as the player looks at real life locations through the camera, a Pokémon character appears, seemingly part of the real-life landscape. Players then use on-screen devices to try to capture the creature.
Hilarious stories have appeared in the media concerning players getting into minor mishaps and accidentally trespassing as they track Pokémon beasts. But what exactly does Pokémon have to do with construction reporting? It seems unlikely that Squirrel is going to take over daily report filing, for example. And while it's true that you might not see him or Bulbasaur working on a construction site anytime soon, in the future, you may well be seeing the technology that makes Pokémon Go possible being used regularly on project sites.
Augmented reality technology has existed since the early 1990s, and has been used extensively by the military. But non-military groups ranging from medical therapists to yes, the construction industry, have seen the potential of a device that allows the user to superimpose graphic images onto real world ones. Developers promised potential users that soon the technology would be available on hands-free devices like helmets and goggles. In construction terms, this meant that workers would be able to walk through a site, looking at as-builts right on top of what was actually being built. And then, nothing. Testing revealed a lot of design flaws. Progress was slow. And it began to seem as though augmented reality in construction might not have a lot of practical use beyond computer games. Microsoft has made progress with its HoloLens, but the product's still far from a release date and expected to be quite expensive when available. Which brings us back to the Pokémon gang, and yes, construction.
Construction software apps powered by iOS and Android exist now for smartphone use. But they are limited to CAD and BIM use, and developers say that the industry seems "reluctant" to use this new technology. Might those in the construction industry embrace a software that allowed users to superimpose report data over live work images? Or change work forms over actual examples? Or call up a RFI as they inspected a project in progress, among many other paperwork uses? Similar software exists now, and is being used by some retailers and some online educational programs, such as Fieldtrip. Developers could certainly modify these programs for construction uses such as punch orders, submittals, reporting and more. But there needs to be a market.
So firm owners and managers, don’t be so quick to dismiss construction augmented reality as a fad or game. This technology has great promise as a way to transcribe, transmit, and share data effectively and quickly. But in order to get winning results from it, first you have to play.