Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and the Future of Architecture, Engineering, and Construction

 With an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering, DJ Smith—has worked in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry for over 20 years. Smith spent the majority of his career working in project management as an owner’s representative for large commercial/industrial construction projects. Despite this experience in AEC, Smith said he found his true calling when he watched the 2012 Kickstarter video for Palmer Luckey’s Oculus Rift. Oculus has since been acquired by Facebook Technologies, LLC, and the company now is a leader in Virtual Reality (VR) hardware and software.   

While the original Kickstarter pitched the Oculus Rift as a virtual gaming prototype, Smith immediately understood how immersive technology would expand to industries far beyond gaming. Smith began buying as much VR gear as he could find and he helped found the New York Virtual Reality Meetup (NYVR), the 2nd largest VR meetup in the world with 6000+ members.  Smith’s passion for the VR industry grew and in 2016 when he quit his job as a senior project manager with Avison Young and went on to become a co-founder of The Glimpse Group, a diversified platform company investing in 9 unique VR and Augmented Reality (AR) subsidiary companies.

Despite technically leaving the AEC industry, Smith sees a huge opportunity in the adoption of VR/AR technologies for construction and design. These technologies will create a new generation of architects and designers. It is clear a change is happening.  As Tony Parisi, the global head of A.R. and V.R. ad innovation at Unity Technologies, a popular game engine, told The New York Times, “I think we’ll see pervasive use of real-time 3D in the building industry. Think about what you can save on re-dos alone.”

To learn more about the AEC industry’s potential to adopt AR/VR technologies. The Glimpse Groups’ Marketing Manager, Elena Piech, spoke with DJ Smith about short term and long term projections, dynamic industry changes, and his favorite AEC projects.

DJ Smith and other Glimpse Group co-founder Lyron Bentovim at a Virtual Reality event in New York City. Smith left his job as a senior project manager to create Glimpse.

Elena Piech:  When I think of construction, I’m picturing a physical building. VR and AR does not immediately come to mind. How can the AEC industry use this tech?
DJ Smith: [Immersive technologies] will initially be used in marketing and design capacities—so being able to virtually tour existing spaces as well as visualize an architect’s design in a much better way compared to traditional photography and design drawings.  Architects already are able to better convey the proposed intent of their design and eventually, I believe, it will become more of a construction tool in order to allow workers to construct their projects faster and safer.

So near term, it’s marketing and design purposes. Long term, it will be a construction tool.

EP: When you say for constructing faster and safer, what do you mean?
In the long term, there’s going to be immersive construction tools that help workers visualize the proposed design better in real time. So, if I am looking to construct a utility plan within a building, there will actually be visual guides as to how that structure should be built.  This will be made possible through the use of augmented reality glasses. That’s further down the road, but not as far as many people think.

EP: What types of technology will make these visual tools possible?
Fortunately, the AEC industry has already been going in the right direction for some time. The first critical component is that AR and VR will need 3 dimensional data.  3D Architectural design files as well as BIM models (building information modeling) are now relatively standard for the industry and this data can easily be incorporated into immersive technology.  

Then, we need the large technology companies like Apple, Facebook and Google to continue in their hardware development of virtual and augmented reality headsets.
Recently, Glimpse Group subsidiary company KreatAR created an AR expo activation for Meridian Capital. The visualization helped expo attendees see how Meridian can transform empty retail spaces into trendy gyms and high-end restaurants.

EP: Aside from viewing information in a more user friendly way, are there any tools that will ease the production of VR/AR content for people in AEC?
Keep an eye on both the Unreal and Unity game engines.  Unreal recently released their new Twin Motion AEC product and Unity is continually making advances in support of the AEC space.  These engines will continue to streamline the process of viewing design data in virtual reality.
To help Cornell University architecture students design buildings in #VirtualReality, Glimpse Group developers created a custom plugin that bridges Unreal Engine with CityEngine. Students can now simultaneously edit parametric buildings in both desktop and multiplayer #VR.

EP: Are there any cities or firms that are known for being forward-thinkers when it comes to the adoption of this new technology for AEC purposes?
I think it would be more by firm. There’s definitely some firms that are exploring the technology more than others. One architectural firm that I recently visited and was personally impressed is a company called Mancini Duffy. They have a full VR lab in their New York City office. By the implementation of virtual visualization of their designs, they have significantly shortened their design development phase which translates directly to reduced design costs. They’re able to put their end users into their proposed designs and make changes dynamically while their clients are meeting with them.

EP: Looking at dynamic changes, you have 20 years experience in the AEC industry. What do you think was the biggest advancement that you observed during your career?
I’ve slowly watched the design process literally go from old school blueprints to now designing in 3D. That adoption took 20 years to slowly build, but what I’ve really been excited to see lately is the implementation of LIDAR scanning in conjunction with BIM model design. I was recently involved in a project where we used a LIDAR scanner to map out the existing utilities and ductwork above a ceiling.  Then the subcontractors overlaid the proposed BIM model to see if there were any conflicts. We instantly knew which adjustments needed to be made and it resulted in a huge time saving exercise for the project. Unfortunately, we still had to view all of the results back in the office on a computer screen but i know it is only a matter of time before we can walk the same jobsite with a pair of AR glasses and understand everything in real time.  

EP: Looking at what is being done today, the Glimpse Group has worked on numerous AEC projects. Is there a particular project you’re proud to have worked on?
I think there are two that stand out. One was with Lerman (Liron Lerman, the General Manager of Glimpse Group subsidiary company KreatAR) and involved a proposed billboard modification in Times Square. In that situation, we had a client that was trying to convey to a brand what a new billboard design would look like.  Unfortunately, the brand was having trouble visualizing the end product even with traditional renderings and design documents.  We created an augmented reality visualization tool, where the client and the brand could literally stand in the middle of Times Square, hold up an iPad, and they could see not only the proposed design but also the new digital content that was going to be shown on the new billboard.  The client and the brand were both extremely pleased with the results and the project was green-lit. 

Another current project involves a massive lobby renovation. The client was specifically looking to minimize glare into a four story glass lobby.  We recreated the entire existing and proposed lobby conditions and then dynamically showed how a new facade treatment would reduce the glare coming into the lobby at several different times of the day.  This example was far cheaper and effective than a mockup of the facade treatment.  

A sample visualization of the Times Square billboard modification built by Glimpse Group subsidiary KreatAR

To learn more about the future of immersive technology in the AEC space, please send us a message at

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