Virtual Reality in the Building Industry

Virtual Reality or “VR” for short is about to be literally in your face. Next year the “Oculus Rift’ becomes officially available and it will bring virtual reality experiences into the home and workplace. How will you be using it and why?

Sure we’re an accounting firm, but we look out for our clients and a number of you are builders or work in the construction industry in some capacity. So I’m focusing this article on implications for builders, architects and the construction industry but you can read and apply this to other industry groups too.

VR Hype

Believe me I know VR and I know VR hype. My car registration plate is VRTUAL which I bought in 1992 after returning from a trip to the US playing with state of the art gear. VR was pretty cheesey and ludicrously expensive at that time. But the experience I was left with was undeniable and unforgettable.

VR Gear

Today, low-cost headsets exist like Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift and Google’s “cardboard” VR viewer which costs literally $20 (I have a flash-looking EVA foam unit costing all of $36).

The Google Cardboard headset brings VR costs way down.

A Google Cardboard headset requires you to stick your phone in the front slot, and cardboard-compatible apps then split your phone’s screen into 2 sections – one for each eye. The phone’s accelerometer is used to track movement and the result is a silky smooth full 360 degree immersive world. You can do this right now with a range of apps including Google Street View (I walked the Routeburn track from the comfort of my couch last weekend).

My kids love it for games (hint: move furniture out of the way first) and my 8 year old, who loves rock climbing, got to experience scaling a sheer rock face and base-jumping off the top – all in full motion 360 degree VR with little chance of grievous bodily harm on my $36 cardboard headset.

Updated for 2018 – review of current VR headsets.

Construction Industry

You know what’s possible and have and have a vivid view in your head of what a finished property will look like. Previewing new buildings to customers though can be frustrating as their vision of the finished site will never match yours. Paper and 3D printed models only go so far. But put your customer inside the building so they can experience the space, the decor, the panoramic view outside is a whole different thing.

Right now you can do this relatively cheaply with a set of tools which will export existing 3D models of your buildings into forms that you can use with popular VR equipment. On the more expensive side you can send up a drone over your site which will laser-scan the terrain and surrounding buildings to create a 3D model for you.

 In Action

Just as in-home video walk-throughs and detailed photographs have become the norm for real estate companies, VR is going to be expected for all your clients, not just the multi-million dollar ones. Take a look at the video below which has a good summary of the tech and software available today.