The ghost in the construction machine

A virtual reality lab has been created for buildings to be brought to life for civil engineering students and their industry counterparts, long before the first sod of soil is turned.

When a building is mid-construction or even finished, it is too late to be thinking about changing the placement of something in the structure, but a new lab at the University of Dayton in the US allows students to get a feel for the structure before construction.

Blueprints, senor data or other computer-aided design drawings are uploaded into the lab’s software system, then users can float up, down or side-to-side, go through walls, fly up onto the roof or down into the basement, much like an inquisitive ghost.

A/Professor for Civil and Environmental Engineering, Jack (Hui) Wang, explained that using a drone isn’t the only way to fly around an object anymore. “In a virtual environment, once data are collected, we can inspect any structure, inside or outside, and zoom in and out at our wish,” he said.

Another benefit of the lab is for change detection, as in what a building was before and after a collapse. “If we have a baseline model before and after an earthquake, we can examine the damage more accurately,” Prof Wang said. It also allows for safer examination for inspectors who won’t need to enter a dangerous building or stand on top of an unstable pile of rubble, he added.

Not only will future civil engineers and industry partners benefit from using a VR lab like this, but anthropologists will be able to examine how people interact with the building to see if it is user-friendly. Ultimately this will optimise construction design and make it more efficient and cost-effective to determine earlier if the building doesn’t work for stakeholders and end users.

About the author

Desi Corbett

Desi is the Editor of Concrete in Australia and at the helm of our magazine for 8 years. She was behind the Institute's weekly news bulletins from 2016-2021 and is now writing our focused news items. Desi has been an engineering news and features journalist/editor across all disciplines since 2013 - part of a 30-year career writing for a wide range of industries.