Next-Gen Uses In AR/VR Technology - Increasing Public Education & Engagement
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Next-Gen Uses In AR/VR Technology - Increasing Public Education & Engagement

Will Adams, Virtual Reality Developer, Mortenson
Will Adams, Virtual Reality Developer, Mortenson

Will Adams, Virtual Reality Developer, Mortenson

As an Emerging Technologies Developer with Mortenson, Will Adams draws upon his deep passion for the building industry to explore how the intersections of architecture, programming and novel technology can positively impact the rapidly-changing building industry. He likes working with customers to help them understand the possibilities of what Mortenson can do for them, creating that vision, and then ultimately bringing that vision to fruition through meaningful results.

As the technological revolution continues, the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry has been experimenting with the use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) for well over 20 years. The uses are plentiful – from serving as a technical tool to enhance project communications/collaboration and detecting potential clashes before they occur (saving clients both money and time) to serving as a public-facing tool that can build excitement and support for projects.

At Mortenson, a top-20 U.S.-based builder, developer and engineering services provider, our company’s Seattle-based Virtual Insights Groupis using next-generation AR/VR tools in a widevariety of ways. From creating internal quality and safety training environments for our work force to developing fully immersive and collaborative virtual environments—most recently for the $1 billion Climate Pledge Arena project in Seattle, where our team helped enable project, sales/marketing and ownership teams to review designs, give tours and create amazing experiences for fans before and during project construction.

Another critical use of immersive VR is in healthcare facility design—where surgeons, nurses, and equipment operators can all join together in virtual operating rooms simultaneously to detect inefficiencies and clashes before construction starts, helping to ensure highly-effective design while avoiding costly future remodels.

Mortenson is also working with clients to create an easily[1]accessible public engagementVR tool to help gain buy-in from community stakeholders by showing—not just telling (as once was the norm)—the long-term benefits of complex or controversial projects.

One of Mortenson’s most recent projects involves working with Oregon-based Clean Water Services, a water resources management utility,on a sanitary and regional stormwater management project. The two-year Cedar Mill Creek enhancement project will replace a 40+-year-old sanitary pipe that runs through the popular Tualatin Hills Nature Park, a 220-acre nature and wildlife reserve in Beaverton, Oregon that includes trails, wetland, creeks, ponds and meadows.

Although necessary to the long-term health of the community, the construction project will result in two years of disruption to the Nature Park visitor experience and major upheaval to the site’s natural environment including the closure of public trails, significant tree-cutting, and earthwork to access and replace the sanitary sewer pipe.

Given the amount of disruption and the recovery time needed to restore the reserve to its former natural glory Clean Water Services wanted to assure all community stakeholders that not only was the enhancement project necessary, butit was also an opportunity to make many improvements and enhancements to the wetlands.

In close collaboration with Clean Water Services, Mortenson worked to create a web-based, immersive VR platform for the Cedar Mill Creek enhancement project that allows stakeholders to see a 360-degree view of the park and wetlands in a realistic environment that is accessible to anyone with a computer.

“Our focus is finding new technologies and developing them to help our customers succeed”

One of the biggest challenges to the outreach process was communicating to public stakeholders that the relatively short-term pain was well worth the long-term gain. The solution—through thoughtfully-created VR—was to visually communicate why the project was necessary, the improvements that were being made to the wetlands, what key areas along the trails would look like during construction, and more importantly, how much better those areas would look in the future.

Clean Water Services’ Project Principal, Jadene Stensland, PE said, “It’s valuable to have a self-paced visual tool to help the community envision the project’s construction activities, including new pipe and boardwalks, hundreds of flowers, blooming shrubs and new trees, as well as understand the long[1]term strategy.”

Visitors to the home page of the platform are greeted with a 360-degree augmented reality view of the entire wetlands, which viewers can explore from various heights and vantage points. In addition, viewers can select certain ground plane locations along the trails where construction work is being conducted. From that view, stakeholders can click on FAQ links to find out more about why the improvements are being made in each section, and the benefits they will bring to the Nature Park.

Website visitors can also toggle between views shown during construction, two years after construction, and ten years after construction—helping stakeholders see for themselves how this project will protect water quality, create a rich habitat for wildlife, and improve the visitor experience over time.

“Our focus is finding new technologies and developing them to help our customers succeed.The key to a successful VR environment—particularly when it’s used as a community engagement tool—is to help enhance public education and reduce friction. An overly complicated, or hard-to-learn environment breaks immersion and the willingness of the user to engage,” said Will Adams, VR Developer at Mortenson. “That’s why we chose to use a web-based VR environment that was accessible to anyone with a computer.”

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