Martin Schmitz
Nov 4, 2016 · 4 min read

Virtual reality (VR) plays a significant role in building information modeling (BIM). It empowers engineers, architects and interior designers to enhance the quality of their products and services. New buildings can be virtually visited before the foundation stone is even laid — no matter if it’s a single-family apartment or an airport. Construction workers can also collaborate and make decisions more effectively with remote coworkers and sites while ‘walking’ over a site in virtual reality.

All this results in the reduction of development costs: online collaboration means fewer travel expenses, improved precision in design drafts and a safer working environment. VR technology truly and rapidly transforms today’s construction business.

Which HMD fits your needs best?

Integrating VR technology to your construction business brings benefits and opportunities — as long as you know what you’re doing. Most VR technologies consist of a head-mounted device (HMD), which is connected to either a powerful computer or smartphone. Some of those HMDs provide you with additional accessories such as wireless controllers and sensors, which makes it easier for you to navigate through the virtual space. Selecting the appropriate HMD might seem to be a challenging task — even I as a VR enthusiast am sometimes overwhelmed by all the different headsets that are around. Considering the three Whats might help you with your decision:

  • What is your budget?
  • What does VR improve in your business?
  • What are the expectations of your clients?

Choosing the right solution for your needs is crucial; not only for your business, but also for you as a user. The following table provides an overview of the pros and cons of the major HMDs in the market:

Click on the image to enlarge

As you can see, HMDs are not necessarily expensive: depending on your existing hardware, and how you’re planning to use your HMD, you can get a well-working device for already 20 dollar.

Expensive and powerful or light and flexible?

HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, OSVR SDK2 and Sony Playstation VR are all premium quality HMDs — which shows in their price. Those systems are static, and they require fixed accessories like a high performing PC or a video game-console. While these HMDs lack mobility, they are high-end, high-powered VR devices which allow not only realistic graphics, but also enable the user to roam around the virtual environment (relatively) freely. This approach could, for example, pay off in the high-profile real estate market: who wouldn’t want to explore their multi-million dollar estate before it is even built?

Those costly and stationary HMDs are unlikely to become the favourite solution to those who travel frequently and conduct field visits, though. That’s where the cheaper, smartphone-based HMDs come into play, like the Samsung GearVR, Google Cardboard, and the upcoming Google Daydream. These devices need a compatible smartphone, which is ‘slipped’ into the the glasses: basically, you’re looking on your smartphone screen through two lenses right before your eyes.

Kind of a cupholder for your phone: the Google Cardboard

Solutions like Google Cardboard provide a VR viewing experience instead of the immersive VR participation the fixed HMDs offer. Smartphone-based devices might not be able to track the user’s head and body movement. But their quality is decent for VR panoramas. One way to make use of those cheaper solutions in your business is by linking together 360°-images to create virtual tours of your construction site. They can simplify communication, even if your team is scattered all across the country (or even the world), by giving every member the chance to check on key points of your construction site in 360°. Bringing a Google Cardboard on a flight is also definitely less complicated than bringing an HTC Vive. A safety officer travelling to four construction sites in a week will be delighted to move around with a portable and ready-to-use device.

But not every smartphone-based HMD works with every smartphone. Samsung’s GearVR is, for example, limited to only four of the brand’s current smartphones, while Googles Daydream is currently limited to two fully compatible phones: the Google Pixel and the ZTE Axon 7. Google Cardboard, the cheapest solution on our list, works with a wide variety of different phones.

Creating good VR content is the key to success

No matter if you’re using a powerful, static device, or if you’re relying on the mobile approach, you need to create content which helps your business to make the best out of VR. One way to easily create VR content is HoloBuilder, a web-based platform which allows you to easily create virtual job walks. Being a web-app, it runs on (almost) any device: you can show your construction site on a smartphone with Google Cardboard, as 2D-tour on your laptop, or even with stationary HMDs as Oculus Rift — without the need to create different tours for different devices.

VR is gaining momentum at the moment, and it is likely to become an increasingly important part of both our work and personal life. Or, to say it in Mark Zuckerberg’s words:

Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming.

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Links to interesting sources and references:


It's All About 360° Reality Capturing for Construction Teams.

Martin Schmitz

Written by

Student @ RWTH Aachen University


It's All About 360° Reality Capturing for Construction Teams.

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