What if you could solve issues that occur during field surveys on the spot, without having to get back to the office, or even project each phase of construction at a particular building site to determine ease of access and other environmental determinants before you actually begin the work?

Augmented reality (AR) technology enables you to do just that by equipping land surveyors with AR capabilities on portable tablets that combine data collection, real-time data access, and real-time collaboration with other surveyors working on the project, and with the home office, so that surveyors can interact with the data to obtain realistic, multi-dimensional knowledge of the survey area.

This AR capability can be further expanded so that mobile tablets in the field can be oriented to the specific points where construction is occurring, with an overlay of the building design. This enables visualization of the proposed site development so that the logistics of access for large installations can be determined and reviewed in 3D in advance, so that any problems or challenges of access can be solved virtually. This trial-and-error modeling in an augmented reality context has the potential to eliminate cost overruns and schedule delays that can occur when a logistics snag arises during physical construction.

Despite the potential benefits that augmented reality can deliver to surveyors and builders, the technology is relatively unexploited. One reason is that decision makers in these industries — like those in other industries — really don’t know very much about what augmented reality is, or how it can bring business benefits to their organizations.

In a nutshell, augmented reality augments a live, direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment with computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. In the worlds of land surveying or building construction, this could mean the superimposition of climate data, soil quality data or water availability data against geographical field coordinates; or the overlay of a BIM construction model on a particular ground site. The goal is to enrich what the operator knows about the environment he is charting or working in, and to improve both work quality and time to decision for business benefit.

In a very real sense, firms that have already taken the step to incorporate BIM modeling into their work already have an AR application in their organizations. For these companies, the question may well be how to take AR further without prematurely committing budget dollars for new apps with values that are yet to be proven.

Here are several steps that companies can take to test the waters for new AR apps that can benefit their businesses without prematurely committing their budgets:

1. Talk to vendors and arrange for a “tryout.”

Most AR vendors are aware that AR is a foreign technology to many companies, so they will go out of their way to set up demos and even trials of the technology without asking for a purchase agreement. There is nothing to lose here. Companies should take these vendors up on their offers.

2. Identify business areas where you could see real benefit from AR.

One of the major pitfalls of technology introductions into companies is lack of foresight in the companies themselves. If you don’t have a strong business case for using AR, you should take the time to identify one before embarking on an exploration of the technology. Possible business cases for AR in land surveying and constructions are: 1) the ability to improve productivity in field surveys with the additions of more data and modeling that can identify soil, water and other elements in a land profile besides just the physical measurements; 2) the ability to model not only how a site will be constructed on a particular site, but also the mechanics of the logistics needed to haul materials in and out; 3) and the identification of land routes/access to difficult to access areas before you foray into them.

3. Pilot the technology before you buy.

If you want to purchase an AR solution, arrange for an onsite pilot of the technology in your business first. You’ll want to know upfront if the AR solution will readily integrate with your other systems, as well as how it will change how you work, and what training might be needed for staff. The answers to all of these questions must add up to a greater long-term benefit for your organization than if you continued to work without the AR.