“Wearable tech” is a bit of buzzword at the moment, but it could also give a genuine boost to construction companies’ ability to gather and process data in the field.
To gauge early reactions to the technology, BIM+ spoke to Guy Ledger, operations director at Atkins, Rebecca De Cicco, an architect-turned-BIM-consultant at Digital Node and a member of the BIM2050 group, and Tim Embley, group innovation and knowledge manager at contractor Costain.
Google X thinks that construction managers are a key target market for Google Glass, do you think they’re right?
GL On the face of it Google Glass appears to offer a great opportunity to improve engagement between project participants and to make a step change in how we visualise and contextualise data and information. The construction industry must surely be a key target for this new technology to improve stakeholder engagement, articulation of ideas and communication of information.
RDC I believe we are still some time away from using Google Glass in construction and it becoming a mainstream approach, although we are definitely a key target market for Google Glass. There will be companies who do ensure they are at the leading edge of technology and will purchase these devices for those senior members of staff who would benefit, although this number would be small and the uses would be quite defined.
TE I think Google Glass will benefit the industry in many way we are not aware about. Just like tablet technology has revolutionised the industry in the way it manages data, Google Glass and similar technology will play an important role in the way we deliver work in the future.
Google Glass has been banned for drivers because it could be distracting, and banned in some bars in the US over privacy issues. How might clients and other team members respond to the use of the technology on sites?
GL It’s clearly an absolute priority that we consider the implications of any new technology on health, safety and wellbeing, and therefore that we carefully consider the application of Google Glass to avoid unintended consequences. But, at the same time, Google Glass has the potential to improve safety and reduce incidents by making health and safety information more accessible and readily available.
For example, an excavator driver wearing a pair of Google Glasses could view underground services information and images directly overlaid where the excavation is being made, thus reducing service strikes and injuries – the risks of confined space entry could be tagged to assets and made available through the Google Glass eyewear. The range of potential applications is vast.
Can construction make use of Google Glass technology?
RDC I don’t believe Google Glass will have issues with privacy on site (as with the bars mentioned). The issues over privacy will potentially not exist if managed properly, as the device will presumably be connected to an application online that would already have privacy issues covered.
Will Google Glass only be used by those who are senior enough to understand what information should be captured and when? This is something we are currently grappling with as an industry as the younger team members (who are more digitally enabled) do not have the site experience or construction knowledge, yet the more senior do not have the digital experience. This is where I see the barrier.
TE Just like any technology, we need to understand the applications and the challenge it is addressing and then put the correct provision, ie methods and training, to make sure it is safely implemented.
What role might wearable devices have in data collection and the collaboration aspects of “field BIM”?
GL BIM is codifying the world. Once we have a unique labelling system for every part in the world we will be able to view the collective experience and statistics for every part on the planet. It will be extremely powerful and is the essence of big data.
RDC The opportunity to quickly capture information on site and digest this information to members of teams in other locations would be of great benefit to construction projects. Site data collection currently exists in a number of ways, both in analogue and digital methods, yet our construction teams are not currently utilising these as well as they could, due to high costs or knowledge requirements.
It will also be increasingly important in teams located in multiple locations, and the use of these tools will help in this process.
Are there other examples of wearable technology that you think will have implications for construction, for instance the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headset?
GL The most common form of portable technology is a smartphone, and most of us already carry these in our pockets already. There are already some exciting examples of how technology, apps and big data are improving constantly and being combined to identify risks around infrastructure that track activity in the background, such as earthquakes and seismic data. It is sensible to look for further improvements and new uses for this existing technology while wearable technology develops.
RDC Reality Capture and Reality Computing are becoming critical in construction and onsite processes. The Oculus Rift will be useful in translating proposed information and will become relevant in project teams not located in the same office, or in fact even the same country.
There will be an increase in the way we capture existing information [in completed buildings] too, as clients will be translating information from their existing assets to manage and maintain them. The use of wearable technology to analyse how a system is performing or when it needs to be replaced or maintained will become commonplace.
TE I can foresee more use of robotics to help lifting, and sensor technologies used for the tracking of people and making sure they’re not in danger on sites, and health monitoring – we all want people to go home more healthy than when they arrived at work.
When Google Glass becomes commercially available, will you be an early adopter?
GL We are open to early adoption of wearable technology, however, we would want to be clear about the value it will bring for our people and clients, whether this be providing new capability, efficiency or reducing risk. Ideally we would also want to work with the developer to ensure it is designed with end use in mind to make it as effective as possible.
One important consideration with wearable technology is that it cannot be a distraction or a safety risk, particularly as engineers often need to go onto work sites, which can be hazardous for anyone who is not fully aware and concentrating on their surroundings.
RDC At Digital Node we advise our clients what processes and technologies they should be investigating as part of their projects. Therefore I will be advising those interested in moving forward as early adopters to use products that will promote the capturing of information, be this Google Glass or any other technologies.
I am very interested in Google Glass yet at this stage it is not easily adopted due to cost and also interpersonal implications – ie how do other members of teams ensure the individual with Google Glass is capturing only information necessary for the project?
TE We as a business hope to be involved early in the process. Technology companies find it very useful to work with companies like Costain to understand how they accelerate and refine their product for market.