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Q&A: 3D Repo’s Dr Josef Dobos

The democratisation of data

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UK start-up 3D Repo has won a top innovation prize for its open source cloud collaboration platform designed to make BIM projects run more smoothly. Company founder, Dr Jozef Dobos, takes BIM+ under the hood of the system and details plans for its future expansion.

Congratulations on winning a Premier Award at the International Innovation & Research Awards, run by the CIOB. What was the award for?

The judges were impressed by our development of open source software that enables project teams to quickly and securely access information, such as BIM models, via a web browser. They said it “allows for greater interaction and better quality decision making for different parties, including engineers, clients and construction professionals, in any one project”.

The encrypted online repository is based on version control software created during my doctoral studies in Computer Science at University College London (UCL), funded by EPSRC and Arup. The system has been trialled on various projects, run by the likes of Balfour Beatty, Crossrail, and Costain, and it led to the creation of the UCL spin-off company, 3D Repo.

3D Repo provides a commercial open collaboration platform for BIM, designed to give project teams and software developers license-free access to a BIM modelling environment.

People already collaborate in cloud software, using 4Projects or Asite for example, what makes your system different? 

Instead of a conventional file-based approach to storage, our software breaks down files into miniscule data blocks that are stored in a knowledge base and are more easily accessed and distributed online.

While other companies provide online visualisation and common data environments, they are based on conventional file systems, for example, modify a file in Revit and you have to upload a new version of the entire file to visualise it. In our system, data blocks can be mixed and matched, filtered and optimised, to push out an enormous amount of data very fast.

This also makes the information futureproof as proprietary file formats are not suitable for archival purposes.

This is of particular benefit to large projects where teams need access to lots of data. It’s also great for multi-party collaboration, with various companies working in different locations and time zones, who need to quickly change data and visualise it without the need to download large files.

In addition, the open source web-based approach reduces the time and cost associated with sharing massive amounts of information, particularly on large projects. The industry has many proprietary software vendors, but we are trying to democratise the free and open nature of data exchange, and co-operation in general.

Does that mean end users don’t need to purchase a license to use 3D Repo software?

Companies don’t have to pay us a penny to benefit from it because it is open source. Not only do they get free API, they get a license to modify the source code as they see fit. We also provide a commercial solution to take care of the hosting and server space for our clients.

A “starter” commercial license for the software, including 200MB of server storage, is free, while a 10GB “Pro” version, with extended support and unlimited collaboration, costs £100 per month.

Are there plans to enhance functionality in 3D Repo?

Yes, it’s a living, breathing thing and we are constantly adding new features, such as support for Ordnance Survey base maps, terrain models, 3D change and clash detection, reporting and so on.

3D Repo can already easily load any models into VR environments. The traditional problem of using a game engine for VR is you have to hardcode all the assets and create a separate file to run a simulation. On construction projects with frequent daily, weekly or monthly changes, this could mean paying thousands of pounds to get a series of VR executables produced.

In contrast, our 3DRepo4Unity library connects to our remote database. This enables end users to simply log on via the web and dynamically load VR projects with a click of a button.

Balfour Beatty and Vinci Construction trialed the system on the M5 Smart Motorway programme, using it to run a series of VR scenarios for health and safety induction training on different sections of highway.

The industry has many proprietary software vendors, but we are trying to democratise the free and open nature of data exchange, and co-operation in general.– Dr Josef Dobos