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How Virtual Reality Is Changing Construction

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Virtual reality? Isn't that the thing where the user wears a glorified View Master strapped to his or her head, and reacts to things only he or she can see? With all the hustle and distraction of a real work site, is there really room for workers floating around in virtual clouds? Shouldn't this technology best be left to pretend bowling and rock concerts?

It's true that virtual reality devices are direct descendants of the classic View Master toy. It's also true that VR technology took longer to get off of the ground than originally advertised. And that it was seized up by the digital gaming community when it finally did. But VR devices, like many other electronic ones in the last few years has seen some impressive progress. VR devices are increasingly being used as rehabilitative therapy (especially in the military) as well as a training device for both military operations and some civilian jobs. But does virtual reality have a place with other types of construction technology?

One major industry firm has actually been using VR in conjunction with other construction software since 2012. McCarthy Building uses VR along with construction technology like BIMs to literally put clients in works in progress. Unlike a conventional BIM which allows a look within a model, this VR construction software allows clients to "make" changes to design plans before physical work begins. McCarthy has usually been able to make these changes at little or no additional cost to the client.

Probably since the building of the Pyramids, clients have wanted changes made to projects in progress. Then as now, the results have been delays and huge additional costs. Occasionally there has also been litigation from disgruntled clients. But pre-building VR site visits allow clients to literally show McCarthy Building contractors "This is what I want." If client desire isn't perhaps achievable quite as the client envisions it, then this provides time for both parties to find a workable compromise.

This is especially important for certain building designs, such as hospitals. McCarthy has used the VR approach with multiple medical clients, who feel that assisting with design at the model stage has reduced both time and costs with projects.

Other firms are both noticing and making room in their offices for the high powered gaming computers that VR technology requires. So don't be surprised to one day soon visit a colleague and see a client sporting a View Master, designing a building only he or she can see.

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