We have been looking at technology trends and what they might mean in 2016 and beyond. In this article we’ve picked three innovations which we think will be increasingly important to the AEC industry.
1 Open data
With the UK government Level 2 BIM mandate coming into force in April 2016 (see our post, BIM: The final countdown), attention will begin to switch towards new targets. There is an October deadline to electronically validate BIM information delivered from the supply chain, and we will also be thinking increasingly about the data needs relating to Level 3.
So-called ‘open data’ will be part of the picture. As we’ve pointed out, the government’s insistence on open, shareable asset information, does not mean project information is made freely available – it merely wants organisations to exchange data in common, non-proprietary formats across the life-cycle of the built asset. Alongside BIM, we will see an explosion in our creation and use of other data.
We are constantly generating data. Daily interactions with businesses, telecommunications, social media, transport systems and the environment around us create data, as do interactions between organisations and between systems and objects. Commercially confidential and security sensitive data is closed (PAS1192-5 provides guidance on cyber-security as it relates to built environment data); personal data protection is extensively covered by Data Protection Act and other legislation; and there is a continuum of contracts, licenses and other controls over various sorts of shared data and intellectual property. But exploitation of open data is currently less well understood.
What is Open Data?
According to the Open Data Institute, open data is what is published under a licence expressly permitting its access reuse, sharing and modification. Organisations releasing such data can enable individuals and small businesses to develop new resources that make crucial improvements to their industries and communities. Open data has already been exploited in communications about public transport, town planning, health, citizen participation etc, and the Digital Built Britain strategy, outlining the next stages in the BIM journey, anticipates the use of such data to collaborate and deliver better social, economic and environmental outcomes.
2 Reality capture
BIM has created new opportunities to visualise future buildings and other built assets, but we are also using technologies to capture data about the existing built environment. In many cases, this is a critical first step in a project – we might need accurate data about an existing site for a new build, or need to build a model of an existing facility ahead of a refurbishment or extension, for example.
Laser-scanning and photogrammetry can help in both cases. Using laser-scanning we can accurately capture millions of points of data about an existing site, use the resulting ‘point cloud’ to create a model, and then collaborate on designs for whatever we are building on that site. Photogrammetry works in a similar way, but – as the name suggests – involves taking measurements from multiple photographs, computing the exact positions of surface points to create an accurate and photo-realistic model of a structure or space. The images can be captured by still or video cameras, both manually operated or mounted on vehicles or on other mobile platforms such as aerial ‘drones’, and combined with geo-location systems.
From a collaboration point of view, such technology can be a precursor to planning and design. During a project, it can provide a way to capture highly accurate as-built data that might be used to check and fine-tune further design work, or resolve a buildability issue. And it can provide a detailed visual record of a finished built asset. Moreover, by taking successive sequences of scans or photos, 3D models can be turned into 4D time-lapse views showing how a project has evolved over time. Whether a snapshot in time or a sequence spread over the duration of a project, singly or in combination, laser point clouds and photogrammetric surveys potentially offer a more detailed and accurate view of project progress than traditional progress photography, and a richer basis for collaboration.
3 Mobile AR and VR
Conject has been helping its clients manage a growing number of processes using mobile devices on site. The ‘quick wins’ have come from replacing workflows that used to rely on professionals writing notes, taking photographs or otherwise recording details, then using that information to notify others of issues; instead, we can take a photo, associate it with a workflow and issue a request in seconds. Having the latest design drawings or status information literally at one’s fingertips, on a smartphone or tablet, can also provide rapid answers to on-site queries.
We are now looking at technologies that take this one stage further, augmenting what we might view via a smartphone or tablet camera to get selected information relevant to where we are standing, what we are looking at and what our role is. Augmented reality (AR) software works with GPS and the in-built compass and accelerometers in most modern smart devices; when this is combined with, say a building information model, information about the environment and objects within it can be overlaid on the user’s view of the real world. Looking a little further into the future, wearable devices such as Google Glass or Microsoft’s HoloLens could even provide hands-free voice- or gesture-controlled AR.
With the advent of BIM, we can also use virtual reality (VR) technologies to visualise how a built asset might look at different stages of construction and upon completion. We might walk or fly-through a model and get a photo-realistic view of the asset. Immersive virtual worlds, accessed via ‘domes’, via headsets such as Oculus Rift or even via smartphones using stereoscopic viewing technologies, can also be used to test out construction sequencing or to train site operatives in safe working practices. Once the stuff of science-fiction films, such digital technologies are opening up new collaborative possibilities on our projects.