Augmented Reality (AR) in Construction: 3D Visualization Comes to the Jobsite

Published January 11, 2017 by Whirlwind Team

augmented reality construction

While virtual reality is making the headlines, augmented reality (AR)is building a base of users in the construction industry who find it an excellent adjunct to designing, planning, and viewing a project before digging any dirt.

Unlike virtual reality, with its replacement of the real world with a simulated one, augmented reality lets the real world stay as it is and overlays a simulation over it. Augmented reality is a "live copied view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory output."

An example would be a 3D model of an architectural design laid over an existing piece of undeveloped property using the geographic coordinates.

If the AR is sophisticated enough, with computer vision and object recognition, you can interact with the model and digitally manipulate parts of it. Now, pricing and availability have made it possible for a small firm or a sole proprietor to lease equipment for AR on a per-project basis. It isn’t just for the big construction companies anymore.

Using AR in construction and architecture

As you have likely experienced, people are really bad at visualizing complete projects from a set of plans or a 2D drawing. Even if they are shown a 3D model on a computer screen, they still don’t know what it will look like once it is built on the selected site. Interior rooms are also difficult to visualize.

Augmented reality places a three-dimensional model of a proposed design onto the site using a mobile device. Used in place of virtual reality, it can cut out the step of translating the plans from 3D to 2D drawings and back to a 3D structure. AR puts the model and elements directly onto the site, and you can see changes in real time.

  • It's a great tool for reducing building errors and the hated change orders and rework.
  • Your clients will also have the advantage of seeing a proposed design exactly as it will look on their property. You can use a tablet or other mobile device to show them how the end product will appear.
  • You can do a virtual walk-through of the model and collaborate directly and in real time with the architect, spotting problems and constructability issues before they come up during construction.
  • AR also can assist with the prefabrication of building components.

Augmented reality is not a replacement for CAD, BIM, or paper plans but a complementary tool to make visualization easier.

The biggest issue with AR right now is that many are unaware of the application or think it will be hard to use. Vendors are trying to educate the industry to show this application is for now, not next century.

Augmented reality software for the construction industry

Popularity has boosted the number of software developers and vendors jumping into the market. Here are a few examples that are currently available.

Smartreality from JBKnowledge


Smartreality is a mobile app that places the 3D model in context. Compatible with iOS and Android devices, it can use 2D plans or an image of a project site. The user focuses the mobile device onto a specific part of the plan which the app recognizes and shows a screen overlay of a virtual model of how the project will appear when complete.

It is compatible with:

  • Revit
  • Google Project Tango
  • Oculus Rift VR headset
  • Epson Moverio BT-100 smart glasses

Future development is planned to integrate Leap Motion software for the Oculus Rift. You will be able to use gesture-driven commands to let others wearing the headset to visualize a design as it comes together over time in a single visit.

Augment by Augment


Augment is designed for a smartphone or tablet. You upload the building model to the app and use the device camera to scan paper plans or the physical jobsite terrain. You can then navigate through the project on your mobile device.

Augment has plug-ins for:

  • Sketchup
  • Revit
  • 3DS Max
  • Solidworks

It works with other design software, too. Augment features photo sharing and the ability to change the colors of objects within the model.



Pair builds a 3D world around the user using a CAD model of the space. You can place virtual objects inside the space and see how they relate to the environment. You can even walk around with your mobile device and watch the space change.

Pair also shows building products and furniture.

It is compatible with:

  • Autodesk AutoCAD
  • Revit
  • 3DS Max
  • Sketchup
  • Menetschek Vectorworks
  • Graphisoft ArchiCAD

augmented reality in the construction industry

In 2011 there was an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand that caused a huge amount of damage. The University of Canterbury released an app called CityViewAR to help city planners and engineers visualize destroyed buildings, showing them what used to be there and how much damage occurred.

CityViewAR is now used across Australia for construction and earthquake investigation.

Augmented reality may be more useful than virtual reality because it takes into account the real world and allows users to see what a project will look like on a specific site. Just the ability to skip past a 2D translation of a 3D BIM model is well worth the cost because errors and rework are reduced.

Most humans just aren’t evolved to visualize objects in an empty space; the ability to show someone exactly what he will be getting with his investment can streamline the construction process. Another advantage is the ease of collaboration with others on the team to resolve issues before the project begins or to make accurate corrections in real time and avoid problems down the road.

More vendors and developers are jumping into AR, some from the gaming community where virtual reality has a big footprint. Some vendors are new to the construction software space while others have been with us for decades and continue to adapt to the times.

Check out an augmented reality application on your next project, so you see how everything "looks" before you build.

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