With increasing talk of new technology, earlier this year I set out to understand the ‘real’ level of interest in Building Information Modelling (BIM), Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) using Google historical search trends. It was clear VR had taken a massive lead in public interest, and I proposed this was due to BIM being more ‘niche’ to certain markets and AR not yet having mass-market viability with key product technical challenges yet to be solved.
Note: An update to Google's data collection system increased the amount of data collected from 1/1/2016. That is, this chart must be read in two parts (pre-, and post- January 2016. For all charts in this article, data is scaled to 100% based on the peak identified during any given time period. For more information on the vertical axis, view footnote.*
Digging further into the information, with a focus on the business and industrial categories (a space in which Beca primarily operates), the gap between VR and BIM closed. Yet I was surprised to see VR had still surpassed BIM in terms of search interest, with a steady increase in level of interest for VR as new products (such as Oculus and Vive) have gained popularity.
Nearly 12 months on, I thought I would see how far we’ve come, and if the predictions I made earlier in the year still hold true.
BIM - The Enabler:
BIM is a technology enabler which will continue to have a slowly increasing base interest over time as it becomes more useful in managing our real and digital assets.
Interest in BIM has seen a slow but steady rise over the year, consistent with previous years. I continue to predict steady growth in this area as organisations become better educated on the ways BIM can help achieve their asset objectives by assisting to manage the large volumes of information associated with them.
Figure 1 - Continued growth of interest in BIM in Business and Industrial categories worldwide.*
VR - The Incumbent:
VR will expand its dominance in entertainment media driven by games, and in the business and industrial markets, asset visualisation supported by BIM and 3D design methodologies. VR will ultimately reach maturity within the next 2 years and then experience significant disruption from AR when/if key technology/hardware boundaries are overcome.
It seems there’s been a slow decline in the interest in VR over the past year, which may be the result of VR reaching maturity as it has hit the mass market. While the use of VR in business is slowly being adopted, and industry is developing a greater understanding of the value of visualizing assets, some work is still required to put this technology in the hands of decision makers. It is possible that the market is waiting for another technological leap before interest is piqued again. Features which might bring a significant increase in interest include:
- Increased visual fidelity and realism that comes from more pixels and better tracking of head mounted displays (HMD)
- Reduction in the size and weight of the HMD
- Wireless tethering of the HMD to the PC/Laptop/Mobile devices
- Increased processing power of graphics cards to create more realistic experiences
- Integrated hand and gesture tracking
- More engaging and compelling applications connecting it to BAU activities
Technology companies and numerous start-ups around the globe are working hard to make these features a reality. And big investments by Samsung, Facebook and Steam are making sure we see more solutions being introduced in the short term. Software companies are also looking for ways to integrate VR into their professional applications with developments in communications and design and engineering taking the main stage.
Figure 2 - Moderate decline of interest in Virtual Reality in Business and Industrial categories worldwide.*
AR - The Future:
AR will continue to undergo development for the next 2-5 years, where improvements in hardware will be necessary to make it a truly mass-market product. Key metrics of it being unobtrusive, immersive, and seamless with the real world. Since AR hardware may also serve as VR, hardware developments permitting, AR will dominate VR and VR fade into obscurity.
AR technology continues to be a research and development focus of some big companies including Magic Leap (as yet to be seen technology), and Microsoft (technology available today). And we have seen a growing number of opportunities and demand for its use in business and industry over the past year (we are currently working with a number of key clients to bring this technology into their modern workforce).
The interest in AR will continue to grow and is expected to remain “slow and steady” until such time as a viable mass-market product is made available to the public and the cost of this product continues to drop, leading to a positive value-cost formula for potential customers. We’re yet to see VR fade into obscurity, or any form of cannibalization by AR, however as the technology matures, I expect we will see some direct competition within the next few years.
Figure 3 - Continued growth of interest in Augmented Reality in Business and Industrial categories worldwide.*
So, where are we now?
VR has come a long way and promises to offer a great deal of value not only to those who deliver projects, but even in the boardroom. As executives come to understand the technology, they are finding opportunities for reducing travel, improving the visibility of their assets, including how they are performing, and how proposed projects will integrate with existing infrastructure.
VR has become an essential design tool allowing project teams to improve the communication of design concepts. Non-technical people are now able to understand what is to be built, what will be built, and how it will be built, with their own eyes. This is leading to improved feedback at every stage of the project delivery lifecycle, and providing important opportunities for stakeholders to add value to the process, along with key insights into the end user’s requirements. Technology companies are working hard to streamline the interoperability of VR platforms and their own software.
AR has a long way to go to achieve the performance needed to act as a viable replacement for VR, but it is making leaps and strides towards that goal and moving at an amazing pace. Even in its current, somewhat clumsy, form AR has begun to find a home in organisations who want their front line staff to enjoy the benefits of contextual awareness, and real-time data and technical support in the field.
What ties all this together for many organisations is a digital asset strategy; leading us back to BIM. The slow but continuous adoption of BIM into the worlds of Design, Build and Operate is complimented with adjacent technologies such as VR and AR, and I for one am very excited to be helping our clients apply these tools in the most effective way for their business.