​​Digital Builder Ep 45: Navigating the Real World of Reality Capture & Site Scanning

the real world of reality capture and site scanning in construction

Reality capture in construction has come a long way in a few short years. Site scanning technologies and augmented and virtual reality are changing the game for construction pros by enabling teams to create a comprehensive view of physical structures and environments.

But with so many new technologies and providers in the market, it can be overwhelming to figure out which solutions you should use and their impact on your projects. 

If you're looking to take your reality capture initiatives to the next level but are still determining where to start or how to go about the process, our latest podcast episode offers insights straight from the experts.

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On this podcast episode

We sat down with Lisa Kelly, Vice President of EarthCam, and Waleed Zafar, Mission Critical Director at XYZ Reality, to discuss all things reality capture and site scanning. They also debunk some myths and offer advice on how teams can get the most out of the different technologies out there. 

What value do reality capture and site scanning bring to a construction project?  

To level set the topic of reality capture and construction tech, Lisa and Waleed share their initial thoughts on various solutions in the market. 

"Augmented reality is the superimposing of information in the real world environment through digital means," explains Waleed. "Specifically for our case and augmented reality, we're able to position hyper scale 3D BIM models out on site with millimeter accuracy. You can go out on site with our headset on, then view the model with millimeter precision in the field."

Virtual reality, on the other hand, immerses you in the new environment, which makes it a useful collaboration tool for design teams. 

"That's where the biggest value for VR comes in. And AR's biggest value comes in during the construction itself," adds Waleed. 

For her part, Lisa points out that reality capture is all about "delivering specific information and boiling it down into what can be used on projects of all sizes."

She acknowledges that it's a big category and can sometimes be confusing for people. 

How construction pros are using these technologies

Reality capture, site scanning, and augmented or virtual reality have many different use cases. The question of what technology to adopt and when to use it depends on your project requirements.

As Lisa puts it, the use case really hinges on "what you need, and what gets down and distilled."

For instance, there's the Ricoh Theta camera which can capture immersive photos and videos. Depending on your needs, Lisa says you can use its API to develop apps that support your projects. EarthCam has developed a reality capture product, VR360 Site Tour, that leverages these capabilities.

"You can walk around a jobsite and get a 3D model and then match it up and build a dollhouse version of it. One of the things we do that marries itself into Navisworks, is you can look at the real time versus the planned and then match that against the schedule," Lisa explains. 

The use cases of these technologies also depend on each person's role. 

"From a owner and a contractor perspective, the value of AR comes in during the construction side of things," says Waleed. "So, if civil work is taking place, you want to ensure that everything going into the ground is in the exact location as it should be."

He continues, "And then from the GC perspective, ultimately, it's in their best interest as well, right? If they can help ensure that their supply chain is building as per design, that de-risks the schedules for them, so they can ensure they meet their handover exactly as they signed up for in the contract. 

Regardless of how you use them, everyone can agree that the adoption of these technologies is growing rapidly. 

"The last five or six years have been all about information in images and videos. We're also seeing, in the workforce, a younger generation that is used to doing everything digitally and online," says Lisa.

Debunking blockers and misconceptions

Lisa and Waleed both see their fair share of myths and blockers regarding construction tech. 

One of the biggest ones? Companies feel that these technologies are "too expensive and too complicated," says Lisa. 

Waleed agrees and adds that concerns around costs likely won't go away anytime soon. 

"Cost is always a factor. And fundamentally, I think it will forever be a factor," he says. 

Beyond that, he also sees companies being hesitant to try new technologies because of poor experiences in the past. 

"The biggest thing that we come across, specifically in augmented reality, is that a lot of times clients have been burned. They were promised the full stream from some early tools, and everybody took it on and bought these amazing headsets, but then they couldn't load up a large model or position it accurately. And all of a sudden, very quickly, they go, 'Yeah, AR's not for construction.'"

He continues, "But that's the myth I would like to debunk today. And that's kind of the premise for our business. That's why we had to develop our own headset to position hyper scale models with millimeter precision."

How to start your tech journey with a company 

Whether you're adopting AR, VR, or other site scanning tools, the success of your efforts will hinge on your technology partners. Here are some ways you can establish excellent working relationships with them.

Get in touch and flex your networking skills

Lisa recommends contacting and vetting technology companies that can support your initiatives. 

"It's really about finding people who want to build partnerships. But it's also about taking that first step and understanding that you might feel uncomfortable. People don't like to admit they don't know things, and there's a lot out there."

One of the best ways to ensure you're teaming up with the right companies (and not getting burned) is to have a vetting process. Ask the right questions, look into the company's track record, and check their references. 

Connecting with your peers is also vital, adds Lisa. 

"Maybe it's coming to an event like Autodesk University and seeing it for yourself, joining an association. Construction is networking. You need to find your electrical contractor through your plumber, and it might be the same way with technology companies." 

Drill down on your pain points

Another crucial step is to gain clarity into the problems you want to solve.

"Take a high level overview of your construction team, your construction projects, how you've delivered," remarks Waleed. "Where are your pains, and where are your challenges? Because if there's no pain, there's no way you'll be able to solve it and actually get the business case internally to get the traction needed to adopt the technology."

It's essential to get specific with those challenges and identify when and where issues arise. In doing so, you can effectively look into potential solutions and tools to help you overcome those challenges. 

Don't sign a contract blind

Already have partnerships in mind? Consider conducting a pilot with tech firms and thoroughly review the contract before proceeding.

"Reread contracts specifically within pilots themselves—they are so important," says Waleed.

He continues, "Make sure they're paid pilots; if your team doesn't invest in it, they're not as vested in understanding the business case as well."

A bright future ahead

Lisa and Waleed wrap up the discussion by sharing some of the things they're most excited about in construction. 

Lisa, for her part, is happy to see more collaboration happening in the tech space. "My favorite trend is existing technology companies in the AEC industry working together."

"People are creating API endpoints that can meet, rather than trying to be all things to all people. We can put up cameras anywhere, and then we have software that can plug in with somebody else that will give you information."

Meanwhile, Waleed sees a bigger focus on quality, with more owners willing to invest in top-notch services. 

"Beforehand, it was about getting it done as quickly and as cheaply as possible. But now, I've started to see this huge emphasis on quality. Owners are willing to pay more for a better quality asset because, ultimately, they've understood that over the course of the life cycle of that asset, if we can get it right the first time upfront, it makes everything a lot easier down the road."

New podcast episode every week

Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week.

If you want to learn more about reality capture as well as augmented and virtual reality, listen to the full podcast episode of Digital Builder to hear more from Waleed and Lisa. 

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Eric Thomas

Eric is a Sr. Multimedia Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk and hosts the Digital Builder podcast. He has worked in the construction industry for over a decade at top ENR General Contractors and AEC technology companies. Eric has worked for Autodesk for nearly 5 years and joined the company via the PlanGrid acquisition. He has held numerous marketing roles at Autodesk including managing global industry research projects and other content marketing programs. Today Eric focuses on multimedia programs with an emphasis on video.