Registered users can unlock up to five pieces of premium content each month.
Visualizing the Building Information Modelling Process
In early October, Project Atlas launched their bespoke mapping engine. The company’s basic goal is to go beyond the boundary of paper, digitize information for the construction industry, and provide location-specific management that visualizes schematics for construction projects with geographical accuracy. They further aim to offer a broad-based platform from which drone solution providers and construction companies can use their information to analyses projects; essentially being a Google Maps for construction.
Project Atlas represents a trend in the construction industry, with innovative solutions being developed to increase productivity, provide better business intelligence, and to construct a fully functional Building Information Modelling (BIM) system. The project was co-created by Todd Wynne (COO) and Joe Williams (CEO).
In an interview, Joe Williams discussed how construction has been one of the most inefficient industries, citing their continued reliance on paper for building schematics and project outlines. At most, digitization has moved information onto computers but has not improved the ability of managers to visualize their project and monitor progress.
Project Atlas essentially works like a map. It can provide geographic information about the project, along with information on different layers of the construction-site. It also provides a simple and intuitive platform from which all documents can be accessed on a smartphone, tablet or computer.
The team take the initial designs and layouts of architects and designers, and then provide a 3D schematic via mapping software. This means instead of referring constantly to paper designs, workers can access and manipulate the building’s design quickly, simply and to a level of higher detail. This is advertised as translating information from PDF’s, folders and files into location-based formats that manifest themselves visually.
Use-cases for this capability are wide-ranging. From the design phase to construction and even demolition, having an interactive 3-D schematic allows for better intelligence and a more integrated BIM system. It also allows operators to make decisions quickly, access high degrees of information and share with management.
With all this high-level information being accessible from a handheld device, decision-making can be made much closer to the workspace, allowing management to focus on strategic decision-making and operators to get on with their job. In the long term, the ubiquitous access to information opens the possibility for companies to develop a more connected and dynamic decision-making structure where construction workers can provide granular knowledge to management, and vice-versa.
To place the aerial data in geographic context, Atlas uses GPS, and operates on a cloud-based network. This allows for better accuracy in determining the location of assets, allows team members to see each other’s location and, like Google Maps, allows for continuous updating of the data. This is offset by disadvantages in regions where there is no connectivity, such as remote areas or underground construction sites. Currently, Atlas and other companies are looking to provide remote connectivity through mobile connectivity systems, on-device applications, caching and remote-time location system (RTLS) technology.
The system also allows for voice-dictation, an important feature for a contractor who is likely carrying tools or other objects on the site.
Sharing Information and the Value of Drone Imagery
In the context of construction, a request for information (RFI) is a clarification to original design. This is requested by the contractor to the original design team whenever the blueprints do not provide the necessary information. An RFI will consist of a question, with affiliated information and potentially a suggestion about the solution.
Traditional method of filing RFI was cumbersome, often requiring a mixture of email attachments and physical drawings. Project Atlas makes this easier through voice dictation and improving information access.
Project Atlas is developing at a time of major adoption of drones in construction. While for other industries, a drone might be a more cost-effective alternative to pre-existing aerial imaging solution (like agriculture). Having an aerial platform that can survey, monitor, inspect and manage material is a huge benefit to contractors who have previously had to organize the building process from the ground up.
Atlas conducts drone flights at a variable rate depending on the project. The peculiarities of the task may require only a weekly update or could involve daily flights to get a detailed understanding of the site. Drones are getting increasingly easy to launch, and so can be used more as an ad-hoc tool that does not require a dedication of man-hours or organization to operate.
Drone Data combines with Project Atlas software, which is georeferenced to a location. This allows for building schematics to be layered onto drone imagery, much in the same way weather patterns are referenced on a map. This allows an RFI to be georeferenced. This provides geographic context to decision-making about the design and building process, make the job easier for decision makers.
Project Atlas represents a major attempt to provide a comprehensive solution that emulates the spirit of ‘smart manufacturing’ (digitization, information access etc.) and brings it to construction. Alongside increased sharing, georeferencing and digitizing schematics, drone data allows for a fully integrated BIM system.
‘Smart Construction’, analogous to all the other ‘Smart’ market concepts, is an attempt to leverage technology and innovative business practices to what has been a notoriously wasteful and inefficient industry. There is an urgent need to economize as demand for urban construction soars globally. Up to 2050, there are expected to be an additional 2.5 billion people living in cities according to the United Nations. This represents a shift in the global population increasing from 54% in 2015 to 66% in 2050, reaching the 60% mark by 2060. The 2015 UN World Urbanization Prospects report also points out the increase in the number of megacities (more than 10 million people) will increase from 31 in 2016 to 41 in 2030 (in effect a 1 billion increase in the Urban population within 15 years).
Having come out of construction themselves, the Project Atlas team are attempting to improve contractor’s ability to visualize a project in geographical context, as current methods for doing so are unergonomic. The aim is to transplant information from documents, notes and schematics, and to place them in the real world. As aerial imaging platforms that can provide continual monitoring of a site, drones will be integral to this new system of information sharing, and provide decision-makers at the highest and lowest levels with a superior quality and quantity of information.
Prior to launch, the team have partnered with DJI for platforms, and have reached out to major American construction companies like McCarthy and Mortenson. In an example of the culture of software to software partnerships developing in the commercial- sUAV space, Atlas also has a strategic partnership with DroneDeploy.