Advanced technology is bringing new hospital spaces to life before a shovel even hits the ground. Construction teams are leveraging virtual reality and augmented reality to provide doctors, nurses and health care systems with a realistic 3-D visual perspective (VR) of clinical environments before they’re built.
“VR can help owners and end users gain a real-life, immersive perspective of what the completed space is going to look and feel like,” said Brett Kostial, VDC manager at St. Louis-based McCarthy Building Companies, a leading health care construction company.
Augmented reality takes that concept a step further by superimposing a computer-generated virtual model in a real-life, mixed reality environment so clinicians can experience and provide feedback on how spaces will function.
In an operating room, for example, a doctor can use his hands to interact with the operating table and other equipment to determine how well it will serve his needs.
“It’s much better to figure those details out early on in the design process than when the space is constructed and the doctor is not satisfied with the layout,” Kostial said.
At Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center in Mattoon, Ill., a 3-D laser-scanning device is guiding construction of a 70,000-square-foot cardiovascular expansion. The device rotates 360 degrees as it shoots out infrared laser at a rate of a million points per second.
“It can provide precise measurements down to one-sixteenth of an inch, so we can see inaccuracies that you wouldn’t be able to see with the naked eye,” Kostial said.
“The laser scanner helps identify issues ahead of construction so they can be documented and corrected before negatively impacting the project.”
Originally developed as a law-enforcement tool for accurately documenting crime scenes, laser scanning now enables McCarthy construction teams to quickly collect an abundance of highly accurate 3-D data in a point cloud format. It’s a valuable tool for documenting and verifying existing conditions on hospital renovations, coordinating the activities of trade partners, and authenticating the accuracy of construction conditions relative to the design intent and project contract documents.
On another recent hospital expansion project, laser scanning of the existing facility revealed that the as-built drawings represented an entire column bay that differed from the physical environment by one foot. The roof drains also varied from the as-builts, with a few positioned in what was intended to be a new doorway.
“Working collaboratively with the design team, we were able to identify the issues early, so the architects could make adjustments to the design and avoid costly changes during construction,” said Matt Sauer, McCarthy Project Manager.
Complementing these technologies, unmanned aerial vehicles — or drones — are also taking flight on today’s construction sites to document the progress of site excavation work, safety and material tracking. Drones can take hundreds of high-resolution, dimensionally accurate aerial images as they follow a programmed flight path, gathering accurate data in a fraction of the time of the traditional surveying process. The photographs and accompanying data enable the construction team to assess project progress, review safety from a higher perspective, manage material laydown and staging, and adapt the project schedule to ever-changing site conditions.
“It’s definitely an exciting time for construction,” Kostial said. “Technology continues to improve, and new products and applications are being introduced every day.”