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The true reality: Whether to go augmented or virtual?

September 27, 2018

Perhaps sensibly, it’s not a widely known fact that I am on level 32 of Pokémon Go.  In fact, I’ve caught 293 out of the 376 Pokémon available, evolved no less than 2 Magikarp’s, and have over 3 million XP at the time of writing.  And at an age far greater than this should be acceptable, for some unknown reason, I am still attempting to catch small cartoon characters with red and white coloured circles. 

Pokémon Go is, of course, the most widely recognized application of augmented reality in the world today, and personally I am fascinated with this ability to overlay pixels onto the real world.  But, there’s also virtual reality – a thing thought of for gamers or still the stuff of science fiction, but also something that combines a human experience with pixels.  

I feel that three questions continue to emerge when these technologies are mentioned - what really is the difference between augmented and virtual reality, should we be looking at this technology as more than just gimmicks, and why, as an engineering and construction management company, are we even writing about it?

Taking the Pokémon Go example . . . augmented reality is when you, as a viewer, still have your peripheral vision of the real world but, with the aid of a screen or glass, you can see a pixelated image on top of that reality.  You can move your vision using your own eyes but whenever you look through the screen the relevant images will appear in the air.  On the other hand, with virtual reality you entirely absorb yourself into the computerized graphics in their entirety and your peripheral vision of the real world is removed.  You can experience 3D situations not present in the physical world and experience what it would feel like to be there in person.

But, why are these technologies a talking point for an industry that designs, builds and operates large scale physical assets?  It’s because augmented and virtual reality are making a huge difference to the accuracy, safety and quality of the assets being designed today and these benefits can’t be ignored.

In the case of augmented reality, currently project teams are still reviewing potential design ideas in 2D – design review meetings are often conducted using flat screens or in some cases even paper copies.  Instead, with augmented reality you can be sitting in your meeting room and seeing your design in 3D floating in the air in front of you- you can move it about, separate layers and even look inside. 

In other scenarios, you can see a 3D visualization of a road layout, for example, showing multiple different car movements by switching on and off different variables.  Even these two simple examples give you a far greater ability to perceive how that design is going to work in reality and also quickly make iterations there and then to see how particular changes would impact your design.

With virtual reality, you take the experience to next level where you can see what it would be like to walk, drive, travel, or move around and through your asset in any way you’d like.  From a remote location, you can involve your customers in the virtual experience too, gathering feedback on the design for usability. 

And in terms of training, you can bring your operatives up to speed without the risk of sending them onto dangerous sites, plus the obvious cost savings.  What’s more you will have the starting point for your digital twin – something we address in a later blog here.

So, gone are the days when these two technologies are just for show or novelty, but which one should you pick – augmented reality or virtual reality?  Well, the true reality is that it depends on the best technology for the job and that’s something we can advise on.  But what you should always encourage of your design and engineering partner is that they provide you designs in a 3D format – whether using virtual or augmented reality. 

lucy.wain@atkinsglobal.com or contact Simons Evans at simon.evans@atkinsglobal.com


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