Tracking construction remotely as projects follow workers to smaller cities
As the Great Dispersion follows the Great Resignation developers’ work is spreading to secondary and tertiary centres. General contractors increasingly need to manage their teams remotely. Major general contractor Brasfield & Gorrie is working with a 360-degree photo-documentation software, OpenSpace, showing how it can be done. Val Lang, innovation and ops tech at $3.8bn-turnover Brasfield & Gorrie, and Robert Shear, VP of business development and strategy at OpenSpace, spoke with Paul Unger.
What is the market trend driving this change in construction?
OpenSpace: People are moving out of urban centres, and that’s changing the property mix for commercial property quite dramatically. General contractors that used to be more concentrated in urban areas or in certain business districts are now following their customers out to new markets, because that’s where their employees are going.
Brasfield & Gorrie: A couple of years ago, all of our team members were in the main office in Birmingham or Atlanta. But now we have projects that are in much more remote locations that you might not want to travel to every day. They are not necessarily remote. It may be they are secondary cities or tertiary cities that are now growing like you’re Charlottes, your Charlestons, Memphis, places like this. People are resigning from big cities and now moving out to these smaller cities because their work allows them to do that. Which means developers have to shift because there’s a new place that they’re going to want to develop and we’re going to build wherever they want. Having projects in remote locations doesn’t hinder us anymore because we can use local contractors, but still have our main project teams wherever they are still live with their family and access their job sites virtually.
What is the solution we’re talking about?
OpenSpace: We are a 360-degree image-based product that captures, shares and tracks construction. Think of it as real-time Google Street View of the site. Folks on the construction team will put a 360 camera like a GoPro on their hardhat and they’ll walk the jobsite, and as they’re doing so they’re collecting two images a second. What that means is that you could walk at 7am, and by 8am you have your team meeting with your owner and your architect, and you can see the jobsite as it was an hour ago. You can collaborate and tag and review. This enables remote collaboration. And then we also do some object recognition and some computer vision to be able to track progress on certain materials.
How has 3D image tracking changed way GCs work?
Brasfield & Gorrie: Now project managers don’t have to travel out to their site every day. They can review and walk through their project virtually, tag things and call out issues. They can issue RFIs [requests for information, technical formal questions] which are a big deal in construction. At this point, I think we’ve probably had OpenSpace projects in maybe 15 states. The owners don’t have to fly out to their development to see the project, they can hop right into the web app and walk through it. They can hop on a Zoom call with the project manager, and they can walk through it together, which was obviously very helpful during the pandemic. Progress didn’t have to slow down.
What results have site teams seen?
Brasfield & Gorrie: It’s much easier to track progress. The platform calculates where you are percentage wise in the build. So, you can better schedule deliveries and this helps keep the project on track. You can keep your subcontractors accountable for work that they’ve completed and the dates that it was completed. The developer gets all these photos at the end of the job, they have the Bible of how their building was built. They know where things were installed and how they were installed.
How did Brasfield & Gorrie chose OpenSpace?
Brasfield & Gorrie: We’ve been working with OpenSpace for around five years. We have an innovation group and we’re constantly looking for emerging technology and new trends and ways to make the products and process more efficient. OpenSpace checks a lot of those boxes.
It’s a busy market. But OpenSpace can capture and turn around walks very quickly. While you are looking for things with your eyes, the camera’s capturing things that other people can go back and view later that day. That’s very helpful. The OpenSpace support team is very vigilant about getting issues resolved and being quick to respond to anything that any requests that we have.
Is adoption on the ground challenging?
Brasfield & Gorrie: Yeah, that was a big challenge initially, but all it takes is a couple of hardened superintendents to trust the platform for it to take off. We started with a couple of the more tech-savvy superintendents, and then it spread by word of mouth. Their opinion is going to hold more weight than some BIM kid in the office. They’re out there doing it every day, so to have these guys vouching for the platform was important. They love holding their subcontractors accountable, the sheer visibility. We have over 200 active projects right now. So, when all the superintendents are on a phone call and one guy says ‘hey, I use this on my laptop and it saves me time, it saves the project,’ it’s just a snowball that’s going to gain momentum.
Are there product developments planned?
OpenSpace: Our central ethos is simplicity. We’re not a company that likes to just keep piling on features. We like to really make the stuff that we have easy to use and smooth. Having said that we are working on OS Track, which is the ability to track progress automatically, so we’ll be adding more capabilities there. And then we’re always looking to make it easier for people to capture. One thing we’ve done recently is enabled the iPhone’s inbuilt LIDAR 3D scanner to be used. So, you can go and scan that small area with an iPhone and have that be something that has dimensional capabilities for checks. We want to add features that make everyone’s life easier.