Virtual Reality Goes Viral

Imagine if Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs or Henry Ford had never dared to defy convention. Like those innovators, Balfour Beatty embraces the possibility of finding a better way. Virtual Reality—VR for short—is one such exciting tool our teammates are adopting to create a bold and better future for our people and partners. 

Believe the Hype

In construction, VR is used to create real-time, full-scale immersive simulations of unbuilt spaces. With headsets, high-def projectors and other gear, users can be transported into life-like spaces and interact with tactile elements from finishes to MEP layouts. 

In 2016, Balfour Beatty held a global, 24-hour “VR Storm” to rapidly advance our collective understanding of VR capabilities and share best practices. Since that time, we’ve observed three key ways it will improve project management and execution, and we’ve only yet begun to scratch the surface of what it means to marry the digital world to the physical, building world.  

  • Faster, smarter decision-making in design, which translates into a more efficient and effective construction process
  • Jobsite orientation, which familiarizes parties to logistics plans and site conditions
  • Safety training, which educates workers in a secure, forgiving virtual environment

“As a general contractor, our role is to translate our clients’ vision,” affirms Mark Konchar, chief of innovation for Balfour Beatty US. “VR helps us more fully grasp that vision, and in turn, we can equip our trade partners to deliver the first time.”

Laggards or Leaders 

In many ways, construction professionals still face the same physical challenges their counterparts tackled 50 years ago. Though bricks and mortar haven’t changed, our tools to solve them have. And yet, the industry maintains a high and conservative threshold for implementing new modes of working, causing construction to trail behind other sectors when it comes to efficiency and productivity. But with Lean solutions like prefabrication and modular construction helping to wet the industry’s appetite for transformation—coupled with its rapid and widespread adoption by social media platforms and tech giants—builders are awakening to the power of VR and other leading edge technologies. And in some cases, thanks to their own children!

 “At Balfour Beatty, we are always willing to adapt our strategies to the challenges that face our clients,” affirms Mark. “For those asking ‘Why would I risk doing it any different?’ I would pose this question, ‘Do we want to be laggards or leaders?’ ” 

The level of engagement and interaction VR facilitates is already leading to better communication and collaboration on Balfour Beatty projects. Though some users require convincing, the experiential power of VR quickly converts doubters into disciples. It may not be as revolutionary as the light bulb, but the (virtual) reality is that this technology is here to stay.