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AEC tech perspective and the reason Google Glass failed in construction

What a difference 5 years can make. I recently attended the ENR FutureTech East event—the 5th one for me. I was hoping to write my event takeaways on the train ride back to Boston at 7PM after the conference ended, but that didn’t pan out.  Maybe it’s age.  

But age and experience does provide a broader perspective. Here’s mine on the event:

There were quite a few more startups present than I remember seeing at past FutureTech events.  Not surprising given that AEC (architecture, engineering, construction) industry startups have raised $350MM in funding since 2010 according to a recent CB Insights report.  What was fascinating to me was that all of them have to do with the field. Companies like FieldLens (field issue tracking), PlanGrid (field documents), Raken (field reports), Insight IT (field material management) were all sponsors of the event.  What’s ironic is I still remember being told by some attendees back in my Vela Systems days that “construction guys won’t use mobile devices.”

Another change I noticed is the increased prevalence of established AEC companies funding their own internal technology efforts.  For example, Skanska is working on using 3D animation to explain safety incidents across the company without compromising privacy or showing gruesome imagery.  The keynote speech on Thursday was given by Brad Hardin, CTO of Black & Veatch, on their collaboration with IBM to enable artificial intelligence-enabled design and construction.  The first use of that technology is to put 60,000 state and local code requirements into a speech searchable taxonomy to enable faster design compliance reviews.  

An ambitious internal effort was demonstrated by Todd Wynne and Joe Williams of the Texas contractor Rogers-O’Brien Construction.  Their iPad application, Project Atlas, is aiming to be the “Google Maps” for construction.  Some key features include incremental reveal of features on construction documents during zoom and even real-time indoor positioning of the user on the plans (from partner Redpoint Positioning).   

I’m excited to see how these new approaches play out. Like other industries, not all technologies introduced to the AEC industry fair well.  In the most memorable demonstration of the conference, Todd and Joe began their discussion of Project Atlas by recounting their experiences trying to use Google Glass on the jobsite.   Why did Google Glass fail in construction?  One reason was that to pan and zoom on plan sheets, the end user had to tilt forward and backward at the waist while turning his/her head back and forth and touching the side of the headset.  Todd’s re-enactment was hilarious - he wound up looking like he was trying to do a version of the “robot” dance move.  So at the end of the day, Google Glass failed in construction because it made users look like really bad break dancers. 

AEC Technology Conference

These were just a few of my highlights from FutureTech East, another great event from the folks at ENR. With the amount of capital increasing for startups and established companies building out their own internal efforts, the future for tech for the AEC industry looks better than ever. We’re excited to be a part of the momentum in the AEC technology ecosystem – Be part of building that future with us and sign up for our upcoming private Beta release.  

Written by Josh Kanner

Josh Kanner has been involved in enterprise-focused software startups since 2000 with a focus in the AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) industry since 2005.

Most recently he was co-founder of Vela Systems, a pioneer in the use of web and tablet workflows for construction and capital projects. There he led the company’s product, marketing, and business development functions. Vela Systems grew from bootstrapped beginnings to include over 50% of the ENR Top Contractors as customers and deployments all over the globe. The company was successfully acquired by Autodesk in 2012 and has been rebranded as BIM 360 Field.

Prior to founding Vela Systems, Josh was responsible for product management and strategy at Emptoris (now part of IBM), a web-based strategic sourcing software company with customers including Motorola, GlaxoSmithKline, Bank of America, and American Express.

Kanner graduated from Brown University and earned an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He still gets excited to put on a hard hat and walk a job.

View more posts by Josh Kanner.

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