Virtual reality and ‘digital twins’ are finding a place in the building sector, from design to build to operator maintenance.
The built environment may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think about digital disruption, given the very physical nature of buildings that are rooted in the ‘real’ world.
But the founder and CEO of Hendry, Emma Hendry, says that’s starting to change, with Australia’s built-form world having started to embrace digital disruption during the past six to 12 months.
Ms Hendry has been leading change in the space with her Melbourne-based company, which provides digitally enabled built-form advisory. Her visionary work was recognised at the recent CEO Magazine Awards, where she was named building and construction executive for 2018.
A need for change
With a background in auditing, Ms Hendry came to the building industry from a finance perspective
She said it was clear to her early on that there was a need for change in terms of practices and processes, so she started looking for case studies from other industries
For example Ms Hendry researched how the oil and gas sector had automated processes, how retailers and online distribution disrupted the way that business worked, and how social media had disrupted the news.
“For me it was very much about understanding us as a collective,” Ms Hendry told Business News.
“So that’s why our vision and mission at Hendry isn’t just creating safer, smarter and more sustainable buildings, it’s about cities and communities.”
A key area of Hendry’s work is with ‘digital twins’, which are 3D versions of buildings or other spaces.
Among the local firms using these is Sentient Computing, which creates digital twins in VR for the resource sector.
One of Hendry’s approaches is to use the 3D models already being created in the design phase as digital twins that continue their lives into the actual use of the building. Ms Hendry said digital twins were used as part of a whole-life approach, from design to build to operator maintenance.
One of these uses is for building audits, she said.
Historically, audit data was only given to the person in the company responsible for compliance. Now they’re combining it with digital twins done in 360 imaging in a way that really leveraged that data.
“We’ll go in and do the audit, and we’ll stream the information in to the digital twin,” Ms Hendry said.
“So if you have a defect or an asset, we can drop a pin in it and it will give you all that information. It can be linked to maintenance schedules or internet of things data being streamed in, or linked to videos on how to do something or the instruction guide.”
The technology can also be used with building sensors for real-time updates to digital twins.
“When things are getting touched and utilised or changed, everything is feeding in real time,” Ms Hendry said.
“So you’re now having that immersive experience, as opposed to a report that’s going to sit in someone’s drawer.”
The business also uses the data from digital twins to automatically generate floor plans, as well as for wayfinding technology when combined with image recognition in phones.
Companies such as Perth-based Being VR and Melbourne’s Opaque space are already using VR and game technology successfully in the training space. But what if you add in building data and digital twins?
This is another area in which Hendry is a leading innovator. Instead of VR, however, it is using augmented reality (AR) to overlay simulations across the real-life work environment.
“We reimagined the gaming world to create simulations in the person’s environment,” Ms Hendry said.
“So from their desk a person can now being trained in their actual environment and seeing what would happen in the event of an emergency, such as a fire.”
The future of the future
In the near future, Ms Hendry thinks we’ll see a marrying-up of the physical and digital worlds. She believes the virtualisation of data from the built environment will operate in much the same way as it does currently in the finance world.
“If you trade on the stock market or have a bank account, you don’t physically have your assets sitting with you every day, but you’re able to manage your risk profile – how you trade, see where you’re at any time,” Ms Hendry told Business News.
“So why can’t we do that with the built environment?”
Ms Hendry said her firm was working at the intersection not just of the digital and the physical, but in terms of people as well.
“Employers today need to have agile workplaces, so we’re also looking to move into that people experience within the actual employers themselves,” she said.
Overall, Ms Hendry is very optimistic about the future.
“There’s such fear around data, security and also whether people’s skills going to be needed anymore. What I always like to say is ‘yes there’s going to be some form of disruption but there’s also going to be an immense amount of opportunity created’,” she said.