Construction technologies keep socially distant job sites connected Ben Stocker & Clay Edwards June 23, 2020 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share via email Many technologies designed to transform the built environment and improve construction processes have made the transition from beta gadgets to functional tools over the past decade. Now, just as emerging data-driven technology has gained widespread use and results, it has become more important than ever in the age of social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While other professionals in the built industry have had to adapt to remote work, construction work in most states has been deemed essential and has been ongoing. Now as offices begin to reopen in Illinois and across the United States, these front-line contractors and engineers have set an example for doing their work in a safe manner. For owners or tenant representatives who need to manage either buildouts that were in progress before the pandemic, or projects designed to make offices healthier now, the latest technology is mission critical. New software and devices not only advance timelines, reduce costs, enhance overall building quality and improve project team integration and collaboration, they also allow fewer people to have to be on site. Here are the top three technologies that allow for decision-makers and on-site tacticians to stay connected. 1. 360-degree photo documentation A small piece of consumer equipment typically used by YouTubers and Instagrammers, the 360-degree camera is easily accessible and relatively inexpensive. Most importantly, it captures an entire room in a single image. Add software like StructionSite and now you can place these photos directly into a facility’s 2D digital floorplan and client communication. Instead of having to take eight to 10 photos to capture a room, 360-degree photo documentation allows contractors to capture more data in one photo, both streamlining the process and providing a more true-to-life comprehensive visual update. Capturing 360-degree photos once a week during construction can provide a lifecycle view of the facility for a remote owner and it allows subcontractors to determine the amount of materials required without needing to visit the site. 2. Drones Taking images of a job site from the ground up can’t compare to what a flying drone can capture in a three-minute land survey. Employed ideally on large site surveys, drones can easily capture progress photos and videos from 400 feet in the air. With the ability to pre-plan the route and desired documentation of the site via software, drone automation promotes ease of use and time savings. A recent job had a batch of soil that needed to be removed from the site, but it was impossible to determine how much until the team actually arrived to dig. Deploying Skender’s drone provided a precise measurement of soil on the ground, which allowed the team to plan for and accurately price out its removal. 3. Augmented/mixed reality While augmented or mixed reality has been around for a couple of years, Microsoft’s second iteration of the HoloLens propelled the technology from a game-like experience to a useful construction tool. A headset device worn like glasses, the HoloLens 2 provides an immersive experience for its users. Uploading a project’s BIM model into the HoloLens 2 makes it possible for owners, end users and other stakeholders to strap on the device and physically walk through the job site, “feel” the final finishes and view them in real time as digital objects on top the existing building structure. HoloLens 2 provides users with the ability to touch and even “move” building elements and furnishings while walking through the physical core and shell space. A self-contained computer with Wi-Fi connectivity, the HoloLens 2 is a game changer for construction. New technologies help projects now—and into the future While these technologies are indispensable in the unique circumstances developers and project teams are in now, they’ve proven their utility even beyond when sites may return to pre-pandemic staffing and face-to-face interaction levels, which may not come in this year. Just as those who typically work together in offices have adapted to Zoom and other video conferencing tools, construction technologists, site superintendents, subcontractors and end users are now seeing even greater benefits from the technology they employ. According to Boston Consulting Group, when technology permeates construction, there’s an almost 20 percent reduction in a project’s total life cycle cost as well as substantial improvements in completion time, quality and safety. The study estimates that the use of technology cuts construction costs for commercial office buildings by 12 percent, lifetime operations costs by 18 percent and reduces the construction timeline by 30 percent. Construction is a tactile practice, which is challenging in a world where increased contact leads to increased infection risk. But construction practitioners have embraced technology to reduce the number of people entering a job site to those who are truly essential to the day’s work. Through drone surveys, 360-degree photos, time-lapsed video and augmented reality, it’s easy for teams to feel like they’re together on a job site, even when they’re not. Decisions can be made in real time and with less risk and expense to developers or owners. The benefits of employing emerging construction tech means this new normal is one that will not only stick around, but also accelerate. About the authors Ben Stocker serves as Construction Technologist, and Clay Edwards as Vice President and Partner, at Chicago-based Skender.