The capabilities of technology, once merely imaginative concepts in science fiction movies, are quickly developing for pragmatic use in industries like commercial building. Advancements in cloud computing and fiber connections are redefining expectations in data integration. Mobile and wearable technologies are redefining expectations in the user experience. A decade from now, the construction site could look quite different from today’s job site.
This year’s Construction Technology Integration Survey reported that 38.7% of the 750 construction professionals surveyed are actively using BIM software. Historically, the cost of BIM software has created the perception that only large design-build firms have the resources for BIM adoption. However, as graphic modeling and cloud technology improves, more cost-effective solutions are emerging that allow for sharing large files over the web, removing the obstacles of uploading and downloading. These solutions allow builders to access libraries of thousands of models to measure, takeoff, and share in real-time or even drop them into mapping platforms like Google Earth for job site previews and displays.
Soon, all the models, materials, and other components that make up BIM models will be cross-referenced with vendor-supplied, cloud-based cost databases. Solutions will connect users directly to suppliers, estimators, project managers, and others in need of project information without time to calculate quantities.
It is now fair to expect all mobile devices to sync data across sources and locations in real-time. The demand for mobile technology has now pushed development past mere mobility to wearability. Today, more than just your laptop, tablet and smartphone are considered “mobile devices.” Your glasses, camera, credit cards—they are all beginning to connect wirelessly to consolidate personal and professional data, communicating information that used to be transferred manually. Communications, clash detection, progress monitoring, and time sheets will no longer be separate processes that your administrators connect. They will become seamless data, collected simultaneously via on-site wearable glasses and sensor devices that organize the data automatically for complete project management. And, with all all this synchronization and biometric technology, extinction of the password is inevitable.
2013 was the year of the cloud - the self-service, resource pooling, scalable, programmable, broad access solutions you can access via the web, sync across your devices, and allow offsite database hosting. 2014 will be the year of augmented reality. In January 2014, there were 160,000 searches in the Google Patents database for the phrase “augmented reality.” In 2011 that number was a mere 11,000. In short, augmented reality is the convergence of Big Data, mobile devices, and live end users, creating a multi-dimensional, real-time interactive virtual environment that is overlaid on real world live imagery and it’s slowly creeping into technology we already use.
As a technology provider to the construction and insurance industries since 2001, I’ve had lots of time to brainstorm how augmented reality will impact the AEC environment. Imagine if an iPad, pointed at the floor of an old building, could replace that floor with an x-ray view of the proposed renovations below. Imagine quadcopters flying above a vacant lot, rendering a 3D model to scale, using an app like SmartReality on a tablet or smartphone, allowing developers to discuss the size of a proposed project.
Integration initiatives like the Construction Open Software Alliance and agcXML will be a strong force behind the evolution of the above construction technology. The level of integration we expect from our consumer technology is not yet equally upheld in business. By demanding the same level of customization and integration in construction solutions, professionals will hopefully see a significant improvement in the syncing and transfer of data across a variety of software used for build projects.
Initiatives like the Construction Open Software Alliance work to align technology providers to provide the most seamless, integrated solutions for builders, automatically connecting processes, departments, and individuals who were previously sharing data manually. Construction companies are looking for integration opportunities both within their company and with their peers. When software solutions can integrate and cooperate regardless of the provider, the possibilities will be endless.