Year End AEC Tech Tidbits, 2018AECbytes Newsletter #95 (December 20, 2018)

Rather than a year-end review of trends or predictions for 2019 as is common for technology publications at this time of the year, this article is a collection of some interesting news tidbits in the AEC technology field that crossed my way in 2018 which I was not able to cover. It includes key acquisitions by leading technology companies such as Oracle, Trimble, InEight and Hexagon, new products from OpenSpace and NavVis, and some significant developments related to smart cities and city information modeling.

Acquisitions

A key acquisition in the AEC tech industry was actually set in motion last December, when Oracle, one of world’s leading technology companies, announced its intention to acquire Aconex (Figure 1), the cloud-based AEC project collaboration company that was started in Australia and is now used for managing team collaboration for construction projects all over the world (see my review of Aconex from 2015). The acquisition closed in the first half of 2018, making Oracle a significantly larger player in the AEC technology industry than it has been so far. While Oracle is best known for database, cloud, accounting, and other software products for large enterprises, these have, by and large, been domain-agnostic, applicable to a large company in any industry. With the acquisition of Aconex, Oracle is increasing its footprint in the AEC industry, which it first planted in 2008 with the acquisition of Primavera, a leading project management solution used by construction firms. This was followed in 2016 by the acquisition of Textura, used by construction firms for contracts and payment management. Together, Primavera and Textura were combined into a new Oracle Construction and Engineering Global Business Unit, and it is into this business unit that Aconex has been inducted, with the objective of providing an end-to-end offering for the management and delivery of construction projects.

Figure 1. The Aconex cloud-based AEC collaboration platform.

Another leading technology company, Trimble, which has acquired a large number of AEC technology products in recent years—including SketchUp for design and modeling, Sefaira for conceptual energy analysis, Tekla for structural engineering, Vico for construction estimating and scheduling, and GTeam (from Gehry Technologies) for collaboration—added two new acquisitions to its AEC product portfolio this year. These include e-Builder, a cloud-based construction program management solution targeted towards capital program owners and program management firms, and Viewpoint, which is also a construction management application but targeted towards contractors, integrating a contractor’s financial and resource management to their project operations and to their jobsite and field. Figure 2 shows how these acquisitions are intended to complement and further enhance Trimble’s capabilities in the AEC industry.  

Figure 2. An illustration from Trimble's SEC Filing showing how the acquisitions of e-Builder and Viewpoint complement and enhance its capabilities in the AEC industry.

Continuing with the construction side of AEC, InEight, which is the technology solutions subsidiary of one of the largest construction and engineering organizations in North America, Kiewit Technology, made a significant acquisition to improve its offerings for construction project management. It has acquired BASIS, a company that develops an artificial intelligence (AI) planning tool that can help to forecast large, complex capital projects more accurately. Designed to complement existing critical path method (CPM) scheduling tools, BASIS uses AI to assist and guide planners through the process of building a project plan, capturing insights and learnings from prior projects and using the stored knowledge to make informed suggestions during the planning process (Figure 3). It also allows project team members to provide their feedback on the plan with a simple markup and review process. This balanced combination of Artificial and Human Intelligence allows for the creation of realistic plans to keep projects on time and on budget, calibrated by historical knowledge, productivity rates, and standards, and validated by experts in the field. BASIS will become the flagship offering of InEight’s planning and scheduling solutions and should strengthen its portfolio strategy of providing solutions for every stage of capital projects, from pre-construction to operations.

Figure 3. Project planning in BASIS powered by artificial intelligence that provides smart suggestions based on historical project knowledge and human intelligence.

Another high-profile acquisition that happened this year, in fact just a couple of months ago, was that of Bricsys, developer of BricsCAD, by Hexagon, another global technology giant. Headquartered in Sweden, Hexagon develops both hardware and software tools products to design, measure, and position objects; its primary customers are surveyors, government agencies, mapping companies, construction, and security and defense related industries. It includes several brands in its product portfolio, some of which are well-known in the AEC industry such as Intergraph and Leica Geosystems. With the acquisition of Bricsys, Hexagon strengthens its construction solutions portfolio by extending its expertise to building design in addition to construction. BricsCAD is a 2D and 3D CAD application that started out being a low-cost alternative to AutoCAD—it is built on the Open Design Alliance (ODA) platform and has native support for the DWG format, the de facto standard for CAD. Since it was first launched over a decade ago as an AutoCAD clone, BricsCAD has added sophisticated modeling and rendering capabilities and includes a full-fledged BIM edition that is IFC compliant (Figure 4). It has also attempted to add some “smarts” to its BIM application through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) add-ons, which use machine learning algorithms to analyze the model and automatically organize and classify its elements without needing them to be predefined by the user. This makes BricsCAD BIM a great example for other BIM applications to follow (see the Viewpoint article, “Why Isn't There a Smarter BIM Tool for Building Design, Yet?”), and I hope its acquisition by Hexagon will give it the resources to continue developing such time-saving and energy-conserving smarts.

Figure 4. BricsCAD BIM is a full-fledged IFC-compliant BIM application with AI-powered smarts to speed up BIM data collection.

New Products

Another good example of the use of AI in the AEC industry comes from OpenSpace, an AI company that was launched in June with a very interesting concept—mounting commercially available 360° cameras to the standard hard hats worn by construction workers that record everything they see as they are walking around a construction job site.  OpenSpace then uses AI to automatically stitch together these thousands of video frames into a single record of each point of the job site and transpose that to the digital model of the site, allowing the entire construction team to see a 360° photographic view of any point of interest by simply selecting it in the model (Figure 5). The visuals are stitched together in less than a day, and the photographic records can be maintained for any length of time, providing an indisputable history of the construction on the jobsite that can be used to track progress, provide an audit trail, resolve issues, close RFIs, and so on.

Figure 5. The use of OpenSpace to capture and record videos with cameras mounted on construction hard carts, which are then stitched together using AI technology to provide an accurate historical record of the work on a construction site. Top to bottom: attaching a camera to a hard hat; video recorded by the camera; path of the mounted camera along the site as it is moved; the images by the different camera positions stitched together; and a comparison of the jobsite on two different dates.

A new addition to the Revit ecosystem was launched earlier this year by the indoor mapping company, NavVis. A spin-off from the Technical University of Munich, NavVis was started in 2013 to bridge the gap between outdoor and indoor digital maps. Its reality capture solution includes NavVis M6, a mobile mapping system that can scan indoor environments at the speed of walking; the captured data is then visualized in the NavVis IndoorViewer, which is a browser-based software that streams the immersive panoramic images and point clouds. Its new Revit add-in lets Revit users connect their BIM models to scanned data of the building captured by NavVis, allowing for a side-by-side comparison as shown in Figure 6. This lets users quickly spot the changes that have been made since the model was created and the current state was captured, making it easier to update the model and reduce any errors caused by outdated information.

Figure 6. Side-by-side comparison of a Revit model with the scanned data of a space in the IndoorViewer Revit add-in, showing a wall in the as-built scan that is missing in the model.

Smart Cities and City Information Modeling

In my article on City Information Modeling (CIM) two years ago, I described how CIM was different from the concept of “smart cities” that we were starting to hear more and more about. At that time, “smart cities” was very much a buzzword, with an increasing number of cities jumping on the bandwagon, driven by local, state, and national governments. Surprisingly, there hasn’t been that much buzz about smart cities in the intervening two years—I had expected to be flooded with news, but wasn’t. This is actually a good sign, as it shows that the hype is dying down and the hard realities of actually developing smart cities—that are better planned, more connected, and more livable—are emerging to the forefront.

That said, there were a couple of promising developments, both for smart cities as well as the modeling technology that can enable them. One was the launch of a smart city database called “bee” which is a free and open database of smart city solutions implemented in cities all over the world, allowing anyone involved in the development of smart cities to explore and find solutions that they can implement, as well as contribute solutions they have developed (Figure 7). The idea is to collaborate and share information and avoid re-inventing the wheel to develop a solution that may have already been developed and implemented elsewhere. We don’t hear much about “crowdsourcing” in AEC, but this is exactly what the bee smart city database is—crowdsourced and based on collective intelligence.

Figure 7. The bee smart city community database.

And finally, just this week, we learned that Cityzenith’s Smart World Pro solution will be used for developing the 3D City Information Model of a new smart city capital, Amaravati, for the state of Andhra Pradesh in India. The design of the smart city itself is a collaboration between Foster + Partners and Surbana Jurong (Figure 8), and as a greenfield new city development, plans are to incorporate best-in-class technologies for the development, planning, operations and citizen engagement at all levels across the new state capital. Cityzenith’s Smart World Pro application for CIM (which was reviewed in AECbytes  last year) will be customized to allow government agencies, commercial businesses, and citizens to use a single platform for a wide range of digital services and functions, powered by IoT sensors for real-time monitoring and simulations of construction, maintenance, traffic, climate, and environment. It’s not often that we get a chance to see a new city being built from scratch, and Amaravati will serve as an excellent testbed for smart city technologies in general as well as CIM in particular. I look forward to following its progress in the months to come.

Figure 8. The design of Amaravati in India as a new smart city for which Cityzenith’s CIM application will be used. (Image courtesy: Foster + Partners)

About the Author

Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at lachmi@aecbytes.com.


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