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Extended realities at BYCN

If you thought they were only for video games, think again! Augmented reality and virtual reality also have many applications in business, including in our jobs at Bouygues Construction.

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Improving our services with virtual reality

It’s been a while since video game designers caught on to the value of virtual reality and augmented reality for Esports. For example, Linkcity signed for the development of the digital scene for its Parcs en Seine project at the end of 2020. An organised facility dedicated to extended realities, the objective was to create a unique space for the creation and distribution of digital innovation - and a kingdom of gamers. In recent years, however, the application of these technologies has flourished in certain industries, ranging from medicine to industrial maintenance. The construction sector is one of them. Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality, particularly for BIM, are opening new doors for us.

Augmented reality
Augmented reality is the superposition of elements generated by a computer system in real time on a real environment. The term often refers to methods that realistically embed virtual objects in a sequence of images.
Virtual reality
Virtual reality is computer technology that simulates a user's physical presence in an artificially software-generated environment. The user can interact with an artificial environment created by virtual reality.
Mixed reality
Mixed reality is the fusion of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and images. In mixed reality, physical and digital objects coexist and interact in real time
Extended realities is the term used to cover the three technologies.

Virtual reality for building - and approving - before building! 

The automotive and aeronautics sectors, for example, have already integrated these new technologies.  So why not architecture? BIM already makes it possible to “build before building”, using 3D collaborative modelling. But virtual reality goes even further. Not only can you consult the model, but you can enter the digital simulation with a hard hat and move about in an immersive environment.

For example, using virtual reality, healthcare staff at Poissy-Saint-Germain hospital were able to immerse themselves in their future premises, interact with the models, and approve the technical layout. They were able to familiarise themselves with the volume and functionality of the spaces and explore the ergonomics of their positions at work. This was possible using the BIM model with FUZOR. This saved valuable time downstream: changes requested by users were applied before work began. 

The Workplace team at Elan, our responsible property consulting branch, also offers this solution to clients during redevelopment missions. Virtual immersion allows users to imagine themselves in their future space, approve certain details, and even make modifications and additions. That’s how they worked on the project to create a co-working space for the Grand-Est region.

Bouygues Bâtiment Ile-de-France Habitat Résidentiel has also successfully used this method for other use cases. “We worked with the VirtualProd team of Bouygues Bâtiment International, to produce a virtual reality model with a selection of products and architectural features that we submitted to the client directly,” explains Emilie Constant, Innovation Officer in the Engineering Department at Habitat Résidentiel.  "We worked the same way for one of our largest housing projects, offering a virtual reality model for approval. We also worked with Benjamin Nguyen, XR (extended reality) project manager in the Bouygues Construction’s R&D team, to organise more technical visits of housing projects using ENSCAPE virtual reality software.” 

Teamwork with cross-functional expertise has great potential. By pooling the expertise of the Group’s different entities, we provide a wider panel of services to our clients.

Customer use case on virtual witness

There are many advantages. Clients can visualise a more realistic and precise version of the final result of their project than traditional 3D models prepared on a computer. It’s easier to clearly identify our clients’ needs and quicker to reach project approval, which in turn means better client relations and higher client satisfaction. 

“Apart from client approval, virtual reality also improves services to our clients’ clients - the end users!” explains Emilie Constant. “For example, end users can immerse themselves in their future home, which encourages them to make quicker decisions about architectural details and product choices. More importantly, they are reassured by the visualisation of the future building, which helps them make decisions.”  

Virtual tours for remote visits

These new technologies can also be used for existing buildings. Bouygues Construction also provides virtual visits to the Group’s sales teams. Not exactly virtual reality, these visits provide a sufficiently realistic representation of a project where users can virtually explore. These extremely detailed visits with high precision are possible with tools such as Matterport, which provides a 3D scan of a space. These technologies are particularly advantageous because they are inexpensive and quick to put in place for remote visits of existing buildings or sites. The solution has already demonstrated its advantages in several use cases. Examples include remote customer visits which, in some cases, led directly to approval. The pilot of 60 apartments for Bouygues Bâtiment Ile-de-France Habitat Social, office (BAGAD) and housing (UNIK) modules for the army, and technical installations for Bouygues Energies & Services are just several examples. 

Want to know more about Matterport? Contact Benjamin Nguyen to put Matterport in place for your events or operations. 

This type of solution does not provide total immersion in a digital mock-up, but it can be very effective depending on the circumstances. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, VSL International was looking for ways to carry on with site visits and maintain contact with their teams. This solution provided them with virtual site visits in real time via Teams! ! 

It has also been used for communicating about events such as the partnership with skipper Stéphane Lediraison and his Time for Oceans yacht, virtual visits of the group’s archives for Heritage Day, and the Inno’Cup 2018 competition.

Extended realities - on site and for operations

What about our construction teams? Once plans have been approved and design errors minimised before work even begins, extended realities can also be helpful on site during the construction phase.

Workers can visit the site in advance, giving them the possibility to anticipate and prepare, which in turn optimises operations. “The tool can also alert to risks during the construction phase, for example, if an object is blocking a passageway,” explains Benjamin Nguyen. 

BIM and virtual reality are benefiting other projects in the pre-construction phase at Bouygues Travaux Publics, particularly tunnel projects. Eric Tournez, Deputy Director of IS and BIM for this business area, tells us: “Various virtual reality experiments have been conducted for tunnel projects, such as the Eole GC-TUN tunnel in Paris. Using the Cintoo platform with 3D scans and 360° photos, virtual immersion in the tunnel is possible wearing a virtual reality headset connected to data on the cloud. In-house development of linear referencing means it’s easy for operators to locate and move to a specific point. On another project users were able to safely visualise, observe and record equipment on a 1:1 scale at heights that would usually have required nacelles wearing a simple headset! With Cintoo, it’s possible to navigate around a dense cloud of points from a web browser, even with a smartphone.”  

Interested in the Cintoo platform? Contact Sébastien Chheng to set it up for your project. 

Augmented reality is also being used abroad. At Bouygues Construction Australia for example, teams have been working with this technology since the start of the St. Peters interchange project linking the M4 and M5 tunnels. They use it to visualise design drawings, detect inconsistencies before starting work, and manage interfaces between equipment and structures. It can also be used for quick inspections of work conditions, in situ measurements, and the like. Not to mention all the uses we are yet to discover !

Once work is completed, mixed reality can be used to approve finished works. Habitat Résidentiel (Bouygues Bâtiment Ile-de-France) tested such a solution on the Saint-Ouen D3A and Paris 12 Félix Eboué sites using the advantages of mixed reality - a hybrid between virtual reality and augmented reality. Information was displayed to operators as holograms using Hololens glasses by Microsoft. The software superimposes digital plans on the finished building to check for conformity between the two. Using BIM, field inspections can also be sent quickly to those in charge of works and studies. This is a significant timesaver and, improves efficiency enormously.  

“Inspecting finished works is useful but it is even more useful to be able to check for any possible nonconformities before concrete is poured,” says Benjamin Nguyen. “We’re working on that next.”  
The aim is to use mixed or augmented reality to superimpose the virtual on the real for correcting details in advance, such as the positioning of formwork before pouring concrete, or to facilitate preparatory work for the installation of equipment for power networks and other services. “We are no longer condemned to inspections post works, when it’s too late to make corrections. We can now carry out inspections before getting to the building phase when there is no going back,” explains Benjamin Nguyen, who is currently testing the process on the LFB Group project in Arras.  
Finally, virtual reality will also lead to great advances in the maintenance phase. Just like for the construction phase, technical preparations can be modelled in 3D, providing for enhanced anticipation and operations.  Bouygues Energies & Services teams are already using BIM to ensure more efficient maintenance of the buildings they manage. This new expertise has been recognised with the first French certification “BIM Model in Use” for the Francis Bouygues building at Centrale Supelec.  
More recently, the NextBIM solution using Hololens glasses has been chosen to continue BIM in Use for the building.

A word from...
Dominique Néel
Director of Bouygues Energies & Services
“Our teams have been using BIM and digital mock-ups on a daily basis for two years now. It’s a valuable tool for improving property management and occupant comfort, simplifying preventive and curative maintenance thanks to rapid access to a wealth of centralised and synchronised data in real time."
Virtual reality for safe training

Virtual reality also has high potential for training. Since 2018, Bouygues Construction’s R&D has been focusing on the subject, including a thesis in partnership with Université  Versailles–Saint Quentin en Yvelines, aiming to improve working conditions on construction sites. The idea? A system combining robotics and virtual reality that trains workers in the correct gestures using a process that is both visual and tactile. Advantages? Virtual reality makes it possible to simulate gestures that would be dangerous when executed incorrectly in safe conditions. Workers can learn in a safe environment.  

At Losinger Marazzi (Bouygues Bâtiment France Europe), the Occupational Health and Safety Prevention team also identified many possibilities for the use of virtual reality for training. Guided by their partner Cap Image, the team has developed 35 virtual sites to offer training situations to workers, supervisors, subcontractors and site visitors. They have tested methods for identifying risks, for jobs ranging from earthmoving to finishes, under the watchful eye of a trainer who tracks the participants’ virtual gestures on a screen.  

Bouygues Energies & Services has also successfully conducted virtual reality training. 

Jérôme Palanca and Karthik Mourelidar have worked in-house on the development and deployment of a special training module for electrical safety with training personnel in the department. 
Preventrisk , a third-party provider, has also conducted a similar experience for the Occupational Health and Safety department using virtual reality. These cutting-edge training methods put participants in a virtual situation for lifelike first-aid emergencies they may encounter on a daily basis, such as colleagues losing consciousness in the office, a heart attack on site, or injury from hand-held electric equipment. 

Participants and trainers - both at Bouygues Energies & Services and Losinger Marazzi - are unanimous at the end of these courses. Training under these conditions is effective, more interactive and more visual than on a screen or with printed materials. Memory anchoring is also more effective than when traditional training methods are used.  

A word from...
Philippe Fornage
Director of Prevention Health Safety at Bouygues Construction
“Bouygues Construction is committed to the health and safety of everyone on site. We have made it our top priority. Wherever we are working, our objective is the same: zero accidents. Our R&D and Innovation activities contribute to this policy.”

Maude Demenois, from the Ergonomics division of the Safety and Prevention department, explains the many uses of new technologies for health and safety at Bouygues Construction. They include a partnership with the manufacturer Fein to develop a safe grinder, experimenting with cutting-edge devices such as exoskeletons like the Zero G arm, deployment of a new generation of shuttered concrete, ergonomic studies into formwork using sensors, the BYCUT knife, discovered by the Inno’Cup contest, the use of quadruple robots to ensure safety on sites, the USAFe connected buoy for river and maritime works, the Safety App made available by Bouygues Bâtiment International, the Safety Room at Bouygues Bâtiment France Europe, and last but not least, Cority, the protocol and tool for reporting accidents and incidents which complements the system used to manage our prevention policy. 

“We recently delivered important theoretical and practical training using virtual reality with workers from the CEA d’Aulnay, for operating construction machines,” continues Maude Demenois. Placed in simulators at Acréos, the teams were able to experience machinery operations to raise awareness about the risks of collisions with pedestrians - such as blind spots - reducing risky behaviour and accidents. 
“As mentioned by Benjamin Nguyen earlier, we also believe that virtual reality is an opportunity to anticipate constraints for workers, with equipment design upstream.” 

The Design Lab: a cutting-edge demonstrator

Virtual reality provides extraordinary scope for innovation in our projects. 
- Projecting into virtual reality speeds up and facilitates approval and ensures that the final result corresponds exactly to specifications. 
- Operator safety is enhanced because actions can be anticipated in a realistic environment upstream. 
- Maintenance and construction are even more efficient. 
- It is also very useful for training, for learning gestures in a safe environment. 
- Finally, it is also an excellent tool for our clients wanting to sell to their own clients. 

A word from Laure Ducoulombier, Division Head of Bouygues Construction R&D Design Lab. 

Initially, virtual and augmented reality technologies were for geeks, but great advances have been made recently. The experience is becoming realistic and accessible to all. Today, all these technologies are capable of immersing the user in an alternative reality. In some cases, they will replace the real world: build before building, project reviews, virtual rather than physical inspections, comparing finished work with plans, and so on. It is now possible because the technology has become more powerful, more efficient and less expensive. Facebook’s recent change in strategic direction, now called Meta, is a sign of great prospects for the future.  

What's next? We are now working on automating the creation of virtual environments. How to go from a 3D model developed with technical information to a virtual reality model that will serve clients, end users, and be useful in operations? Many solutions exist to turn a BIM model into a virtual visit, but they are time consuming and expensive. Thanks to the VISIR project led by Bouygues Construction R&D, we are now able to generate virtual visits for any of our projects quickly and at a lower cost.  

Another key: identifying the right use cases. R&D requires strategic and focused vision. A few years ago, we met with the Open Innovation team and many other innovative players about these issues. Unprecedented solutions emerged, but we were not yet able to deploy them widely in our projects. Today the focus is on developing these technologies as practical tools, rather than as high-tech gadgets. We are cautious of being influenced by trends.  
Bouygues Construction and the Design Lab have provided Challenger with a demonstrator for these solutions. All potential uses and technologies of virtual and augmented reality are tested on different use cases, experimenting with the digital transformation of our projects from design to operation. The Design Lab is open to anyone wanting to test these solutions with us. 

Most building and public works projects, particularly in regeneration for which augmented reality can be used to previsualise existing constructions, can benefit from these technologies. They are much more effective for detecting design inconsistencies and obstacles before building than 2D alternatives. The challenge for this, like any R&D, is rationalising - comparing the costs and benefits.  
Interested in testing use cases for your projects using augmented reality or virtual reality? Want more information on the advantages of these technologies? Or you’d like to visit the Design Lab? Get in touch with Benjamin Nguyen. 

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