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Can virtual reality knock a year off the timeline for sports venue construction projects?

For some, virtual reality still seems like a futuristic concept. It can be seen as innovative technology that is fun to use, but the commercial benefits are not always fully appreciated.

However, virtual reality is already being used in construction, to massively cut the planning time in large projects.

A good example of this is the design and construction of a new stadium in Cameroon, which has been built for the Africa Cup of Nations this year.

Cameroon is no longer hosting the tournament in 2019, due to delays to infrastructure and security concerns. But the stadium itself has gone up very quickly, and AECOM, who are delivering planning, design and engineering expertise on the project, put this down to their use of virtual reality technology.

Their building director, Peter Ayres, believes their use of virtual reality helped to cut the design and construction phase from three years to two.

Analysing 2D construction drawings can be challenging, especially to the untrained eye, and 3D models are time consuming to create and can lack detail. But with virtual reality goggles you can walk around inside a stadium and interact with the design before it is built.

It allows stakeholders to get a true feel for the design and the team can check that everyone is happy. Just as importantly, it allows designers, architects and engineers to uncover mistakes and problems at a very early stage.

The virtual reality environment allows you to zoom in and see things in great detail. In a stadium design it also means you can check the design works for spectators.

Carlos Lopes, AECOM’s visualisation manager, explained this in online publication, Infrastructure Intelligence, saying, “When you’re designing a bowl-shaped stadium, it’s vital you check the sight lines are correct and that people in all sections get a clear view of the pitch without obstruction.”

“Up until very recently, the only way we could understand those sight lines were via sections of the bowl through 2D drawings but now an architect can sit in any seat of the stadium and identify any restricted view.”

According to Forbes, between 2012 and 2017, the number of active virtual reality (VR) companies grew by 250 per cent.

And in December 2018, Forbes published an article entitled, “Are AR and VR (Finally) On The Cusp Of Going Mainstream?”

The article concluded that, “Every business would be wise to at least consider realizing how their company could strategically benefit from implementing these technologies [augmented reality and virtual reality]”.

Businesses of all sizes are jumping on board with virtual reality. One of the architects we work with uses additional software to convert his SketchUp models into a virtual reality experience for his clients. He provides virtual reality glasses for them and, using his iPad, walks clients through their project.

This is no longer science fiction. Standing still is not an option – we all need to embrace the technology or be left behind. We know that there are now planners who insist on seeing 3D images before they give planning consent, and this is only the beginning.

How long will it be before virtual reality walkthroughs are standard practice?

Let me know if you have an opinion on this – it is good to hear what others in the industry think. And if you need any structural engineering expertise on your next project, please get in touch.

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