May 2017

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Virtual and Augmented Reality For Smart Buildings

It seems that VR and AR are fast becoming a reality and will no doubt make our buildings even smarter.
James McHale
James McHale,
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Virtual and augmented reality has long been considered a disruptive technology across industry and consumer markets, always on the verge of changing the way we live, work and play. The Gartner Hype Cycle places VR and AR past the peak of inflated expectations and deep in the trough of disillusionment but excitement, at least, remains. Perhaps simply because the thought of it is just so cool.

A quick exploration into VR and AR in the building industry is enlightening however. In every level of the sector both VR and AR are showing their potential in a variety of applications. It seems that VR and AR are fast becoming a reality and will no doubt make our buildings even smarter.


Architects are using VR to walk around their buildings long before they are built, revolutionizing their processes. Drawings and video may have aided imagination in conceptualizing future structures but VR represents a giant leap for truly immersing an architect in what they are designing. Able to identify changes based on the feelings they get walking through an accurate virtual version; architects now have the capacity to understand and design precisely what they desire.

VR also allows homebuyers and future building owners to engage more deeply in the design process. Virtual walkthroughs give them the chance to experience different designs and apply preferences to core design aspects before construction. Companies like IrisVR make it relatively easy to convert existing files and design documents into VR ready formats. And combining VR with rapidly evolving design technologies like BIM is proving it will soon be commonplace in architecture.


In construction, AR is taking center stage by providing quick easy access to relevant information for a variety of applications on site. Blueprints can be viewed in 3D and even superimposed directly on the structure as workers look around. In this way trades people can see and understand their tasks, both in isolation, but also as part of the larger design. AR is allowing workers to see through walls as well as into the future stages of construction, creating unprecedented accuracy and efficiency.

California based Daqri offers smart helmets with AR built into the visor. The broad display allows people to easily add additional information to their view as they work. Workers can also connect the intended design of the final product so that increasingly sophisticated specifications can be delivered quicker and more accurately. Aside from capital investment and training workers, the construction industry should have no hesitation adopting this technology in a big way.

Service & Maintenance Augmented Reality


contemporary VR and AR’s influence on the building industry does not stop when construction is complete. Facility and maintenance managers are also discovering the benefits of these technologies. Like in the construction phase, by leveraging BIM information it’s possible for maintenance workers to see the exact location of pipes, cables and other information overlaid on their view as they move around the building. Sensors in the walls and throughout the building could also add real-time information not immediately visible to the human eye.

EON Reality and lighting solution provider Tridonic, partnered to develop an augmented reality control and provisioning interface for Tridonic’s IoT enabled industrial lighting solution. “Together with EON Reality, we are now exploring how lighting, IoT, and Augmented Reality can be combined to enable further services and make lighting control or maintenance easier for the user,” explains Mathias Burger, Director Product Management Controls, Tridonic.

Be it an office building, a hospital, a power station or an oil and gas refinery, AR enabled maintenance is reducing errors and increasing speed. This also minimizes cost and disruption, keeping occupants happy and making a significant impact on the owner’s bottom line. It is these benefits that will ensure a long and prosperous relationship between alternative reality technologies and buildings.


Most things happen in buildings, AR and VR will be no different. In addition to facilitating these technologies use for all manner of things, many applications can do more to integrate with the building itself. An augmented reality museum tour, for example, may use indoor mapping technology and even incorporate architectural elements into the tour. While storage facilities combining AR and RFID can guide workers directly to the location of the box they require. The possibilities, it seems, are only limited by our imaginations.


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