Reality Capture in Construction: Real-World Benefits, Challenges & How To Apply It

The success of most construction projects rests on the details. Unfortunately, it’s easy for mistakes to happen and details to fall through the cracks when you have multi-site projects or numerous stakeholders. Reality capture in construction can help prevent this, and so much more.

With reality capture in construction you can expedite documentation processes, provide more clarity than before, and best of all — do it all without totally disrupting existing workflows.

What is reality capture in construction?

Reality capture is the use of any photogrammetry software or technology to digitally capture a physical space and create a 3D model or visualization. Reality capture is used across numerous industries, from real estate to construction to virtual reality and beyond.

Reality capture in construction is often achieved using one of several different technologies.

360-degree Cameras

A 360-degree camera uses multiple lenses to capture a full 360-degree view of your surroundings. These cameras can be used for either photos or videos, and are typically faster and less expensive than other tools used for reality capture in construction.

The speed and inexpensive benefits of 360-degree cameras typically come at the cost of lower quality stitching and accuracy, which makes them less useful where truly dimensionally accurate construction documentation is concerned.

Example of a space captured with an Insta360 camera

Survey-grade Scanners

A survey-grade scanner uses LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanning technology to capture incredibly precise scans of spaces and deliver point cloud data dense enough for every level of architectural precision. A survey-grade scanner is typically costly and slow. They can be priced from around $10k and upwards of $60k-$80k, with rotation speeds of 2 to 3 minutes or more per scan point. The cost and (lack of) speed make them less ideal for quick scans — like those needed for project updates. However, the accuracy of a survey-grade scanner does lend itself to the small percentage of critical tasks where extreme accuracy and detail is concerned.

Example of a space captured with a Leica BLK360 camera

LiDAR Cameras

A LiDAR camera, such as those provided by Matterport, uses laser technology to create professional-grade, detailed captures of any existing space and point clouds dense enough for 95% of project needs. A LiDAR camera doesn’t provide the extreme accuracy of survey-grade scanners, and is priced accordingly, making it more affordable. It delivers enough detail for LOD 200 modeling, without the same time or financial investment of a survey-grade scan.

With a LiDAR camera you can create photorealistic visuals and 3D point cloud data with less time, typically about 20 seconds per scan point, which is useful for reality capture in construction — including digital twins.

Example of a space captured with a Matterport Pro3 camera

Benefits of reality capture in construction

The success of any construction project often hinges on little details and accurate documentation. Without reality capture, detail and documentation often entails significant time and labor. 

Reality capture in construction enables a number of benefits that can help you ensure every construction project is completed accurately, safely, and fast.

Cut as-built modeling time by 50%

As-built modeling and drawings typically require multiple on-site visits and extensive coordination between those working on a site and those leading the project. This can lead to communication breakdowns, missing details, and inaccurate as-built modeling.

Using reality capture, you can quickly scan construction sites at every stage of the project. This allows you to keep tabs on any changes, giving you a clear distinction between as-designed and as-built once you’re finished.

For Kuop Designs, an architectural firm in California, Matterport reality capture resulted in a 50% reduction in AutoCAD as-built modeling time and an 80% reduction in manual measurements.

Propel engineering and design projects

Oftentimes, the efforts that take place before any ground is broken take longer than anything else. Using the right kind of reality capture for construction, you can quickly create renders of an existing space and start collaborating and designing.

For example, Arup, a global architectural design company, was often bottlenecked by resource allocation. Busy periods would require the bulk of resources, preventing the Arup team from starting models and getting the project off to the next team. 

Using the Matterport building information modeling (BIM) file creation tool, the design team at Arup could quickly turn point cloud data into digital twins and then .RVT files for Revit — with the press of a button. This allows them to quickly document on-site conditions with detailed BIM models, giving their designers and architects what they need to quickly start a project regardless of busy periods.

Boost efficiency across project teams

When it comes to construction projects, you should always expect the unexpected. Reality capture for the construction industry allows you to do exactly that, which can help you boost efficiency across project teams — regardless of what’s happening in the world.

Swinerton, California-based construction firm famous for the Fairmont Hotel, epitomizes the potential efficiency gains found through reality capture. Before COVID, Swinerton would often have weekly walkthroughs of job sites. When this became impossible, they turned to Matterport reality capture software.

With Matterport digital twin files, the Swinerton team was able to easily create scans of worksites and share them with distributed teams and project stakeholders each week. This allowed them to reduce client travel by 100% and architect travel by 50%. Not only this, the Matterport files also helped them with collaboration and further efficiencies. This is largely in part to how easily they could comment on files, leave notes, and collaborate as if they were all at the site in person.

Cut cost for construction and maintenance

It’s often difficult to get everyone on the same page, whether it’s your internal team or clients, or both. This issue is exacerbated by poor documentation, travel, and countless unknowns. Reality capture can help deliver clarity and foster collaboration, allowing for cost savings on construction and maintenance.

Take Gilbane, the leading integrated construction and real estate development firm, for example. The team at Gilbane is often responsible for projects involving hundreds of locations or branches. Getting everyone on the same page is no small feat.

The Gilbane team has used Matterport digital twins since 2016, which has allowed them to realize design and build savings of roughly 25-30%. They’ve achieved this by sharing up-to-date scans with their distributed teams and clients before calls. From there, they can all view the same file and address any concerns or answer any questions. There’s no need for unnecessary travel, and no guessing to fill in the blanks.

The Gilbane team also uses Mattertags to detail essential building systems and construction notes in the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) manuals they hand off to clients. These digital twin-enhanced handover manuals allow client teams to address maintenance needs with additional clarity, reducing unnecessary investigative work.

When do I use reality capture in the construction process?

Challenges to look out for when integrating reality capture in processes

While reality capture technology exists to bolster construction efforts, there are still challenges to overcome when trying to implement it in the real world.

Technology adoption challenges

All reality capture tools and software are different, meaning they often come with different sets of requirements for the end user. This can lead to various tech adoption challenges and a higher total cost of ownership that negates some savings.

First, some scanners are difficult to operate. In some cases, this will lead to slowdowns and frustration for your team, and in others, it could require a specialist subcontractor who specializes in reality capture. These scanners can also wind up delivering files that are difficult to work with, making them less useful than they should be.

Certain scanning technology is also expensive. Depending on the route you go, a provider could have high upfront costs, or the hardware itself could be so expensive that you can’t purchase enough units to have on hand when and where you need them. This makes reality capture a hard sell and could impact your return on investment (ROI).

Ideally, you need something that’s easy to use and fast to deliver value. For example, the Matterport Pro3 and digital twin platform make it easy to quickly capture scans of spaces and offer easily accessible files that foster collaboration.

Data management and interpretation

Scanning is only part of the equation in reality capture. You also need files that your team can realistically use and manage. Unfortunately, some laser scanners are not only slow to capture but also slow to process — and you could wind up with large, heavy files only certain audiences need or even have the computer memory space to use. 

For example, you might only need a CAD file, not a raw point cloud. Some solutions, like Matterport, will offer file exports for whatever format you need, making the next step in your project faster to tackle. 

Workflow integration complexity

Integrating new technology into any workflow is often challenging. The same is true for integrating reality capture into your current workflows. 

Your current workflows likely include a number of construction technologies, like Autodesk Construction Cloud, Procore, Revit, etc. Not all reality capture solutions have integrations with these tools, which can result in you having to switch tools, utilize third-party platforms, or manually move the files. 

Matterport, for instance, integrates with Procore, Revit, and others to ensure you can continue using your tools of choice without consuming enormous memory on your computer while still benefiting from digital twins.

How to integrate reality capture into your construction workflows

Of the aforementioned challenges, successfully integrating reality capture into your construction workflows is one of the greatest. No two workflows are the same, just as no two reality capture solutions are the same. But, there are a number of steps you can take to minimize friction and increase your chances of successful reality capture utilization.

Step 1: Assess project requirements

First things first, you need to assess your project requirements. Run through the following:

  • What are your space requirements? If you’re scanning a large space, or many smaller spaces, scanning can quickly become time-consuming.

  • What are you using the scans for? Scans for client-facing use need to be easily accessible and understandable, whereas internal files can generally be more technical.

  • What software will you use the scans with? Scans are only useful if you can work with them — you shouldn't need several tools to make a scan workable.

  • Who will conduct your scanning? If you have to wait for a specialist or pull your most valuable workers off of other tasks to complete it, you’re losing ground. You want a scanning workflow that can be walk-up, easy to learn, and executed by any member of your team. 

Keep in mind you’ll likely use your reality capture for more than one project site. Think beyond your upcoming project and ask yourself the above questions in regard to your operations as a whole.

Step 2: Select suitable reality capture methods

If you think of reality capture as a spectrum, solutions at one end can deliver subpar results, while those at the opposite end can be overkill for most situations. 

Simply put: Most use cases don’t necessitate survey-grade scans.

Think about the level of detail you need. Unless you’re regularly delivering survey data, LiDAR solutions, like Matterport, can provide speed without sacrificing detail or accuracy. Keep in mind that survey-grade scanning will also often deliver more information than you need, making the files larger and more unwieldy.

Step 3: Collect and process data

Once you have a reality capture method chosen, you need to think about the data collection process.

Ideally, you want to get a scan as early on as possible, which is why it’s important to choose a solution that’s capable of efficient scanning. From there, think about how quickly you need your information and for what purpose.

For instance, it’s a good idea to look for a scan-to-BIM solution. A BIM file early on can help you kickstart your project while giving you a nice reference point before the project is underway. 

Assign a stakeholder, or stakeholders, to your collection process, and keep in mind anyone that needs to access the data as well. If you have a distributed team, it’s especially important you choose a reality capture solution that makes it easy to collaborate.

Step 4: Importing reality capture data into design software

After you have your data, you need to put it into your design software. Reality capture tech that lacks an integration or plugin can make this step difficult, so you want a solution that plays well with others.

For example, Matterport E57 files contain a detailed point cloud that you can easily import into AutoCAD, Autodesk Revit, and countless others. 

At the end of the day, it’s essential that your capture data is in a workable format with as few steps as possible. With the right solution you should be able to easily import your file into your current design software.

Step 5: Align as-built data with design models

With completed reality capture scans, you can more efficiently compare as-built data with design models. This is especially true when you have a reality capture solution that’s capable of faster scans, as you can take more frequent scans throughout the project.

If you have a scan from the beginning of the project, include it during this step. Then, create a comparison between your original design models, completed scans throughout, and the final as-built model created from your scan.

As-built models based on scans can be more accessible to some audiences than traditional as-built drawings, as they can offer more detail and interactivity by way of virtual tours. But, it’s still a good idea to include as-built drawings and documentation in addition to as-built scans.

Step 6: Share reality capture data with stakeholders

After you’ve made as-built models, along with optional virtual tours, it’s time to share your reality capture data with stakeholders.

If you’re not meeting stakeholders in-person, it’s essential your files are easy to share and secure. For example, Matterport makes it easy to share digital twin files with a link that takes stakeholders to a secure file. You can even add Matterport to your Autodesk dashboard to make the creation and sharing from your existing workflows easier.

Step 7: Collaborative decision-making using captured data

Whether you’re sharing with external stakeholders or those across teams, collaboration is a huge perk of reality capture. Think about an Autodesk RFI or the functionality of Procore Observations, both of which allow users to offer feedback, ask questions, and reply in kind.

Use your captured data to foster collaboration, allowing your team to all offer input as if they were on-site together. This can speed up the review process, reduce the chance of errors, and help you address client concerns before the project progresses. With a collaborative approach, reality capture scans can help your team deliver even better results, work more efficiently, and ultimately build a stronger foundation with clients.


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