Technology Offers Benefits, Opportunities in a COVID World

The COVID-19 pandemic has become the mother of reinvention for workplaces across the globe. Vaccines provide hope of a return to normal one day, but a slow roll out in the U.S. and more than 130 countries without a single dose makes that day a more distant one. With essential construction necessary, it’s important to find ways to adapt in order to get work done. Virtual reality (VR) makes that possible in the construction industry.

The future is now

Technology once considered futurist is today less “Star Trek” or “Star Wars” and simply a work-from-home reality. A San Francisco-based company has been making business meetings less mundane with their virtual reality headsets and controllers. They also note, “Mattel uses us to operate 3D models, Pfizer uses it to plan factories for example. Doctors want to do tele-visits.”

Productivity in the construction industry has trailed that of other sectors for decades and is one of the most resource-intensive sectors. Using VR could give it a boost during these times when social distancing and safety protocols impact the jobsite. 

Benefits abound

There are numerous advantages to using VR in the construction industry that are helpful today and can extend into a post-COVID world as well. These include:

  • Increased safety: Fewer site visits are required when using VR. This means fewer people having to interact in person during the pandemic. Using VT training simulators help teach operators how to use tools without a physical danger. In 2019 about 20% of worker fatalities were in construction according to OSHA. By increasing proficiency in a virtual space, there is less risk. Additionally, there is minimal damage to equipment due to misuse.
  • Better collaboration: VR allows all members of a team the ability to “see” projects without the need to travel to the location. 
  • Enhanced communication: The ability to share data and models provides greater awareness for stakeholders at every phase of a project.
  • Scale quickly and efficiently: VR not only allows 3D models to be created without physical space, time, and materials, but it also provides teams the ability to “walk through” a site and examine details in real time. Problems can be addressed before construction begins and alterations can be accomplished without setbacks.
  • Saves resources: Digital planning and collaboration means the use of fewer raw materials, paper and energy. Reducing the need to travel to and from the jobsite also reduces CO2 emissions.

The ‘Next Normal’

In examining the future of work, McKinsey & Company predicts the “Next Normal” will be a digital one. Additionally, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates more than 1 billion jobs, almost one-third of all jobs worldwide, are likely to be transformed by technology in the next decade.

As we all move forward through the pandemic, VR is becoming more common in the construction industry. For example, contractors facing a shortage of skilled labor are using VR to recruit and train potential construction workers.

In California, Brightline Defense, an environmental justice nonprofit, recently announced its collaboration with San Francisco jobs training program CityBuild Academy and virtual training startup TRANSFR VR, to make construction job training more accessible to low-income youth in a free, citywide program.

“At a time when youth are being forced to learn online and lack access to authentic hands-on learning experiences, this partnership aims to make skills training more relevant, engaging — and accessible,” says Bharani Rajakumar, CEO and founder of TRANSFR.

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