Construction remains one of the most dangerous careers in the United States. To stop accidents before they happen, construction companies are turning to emerging technologies to improve workplace safety—from virtual reality, drone photography, IoT-connected tools, and machine learning. That said, some solutions come with the looming specter of workplace surveillance in the name of safety, with all of the Black Mirror-esque possibilities. The Boston-based construction company Suffolk has turned to artificial intelligence to try and make construction safer. Suffolk has been collaborating with computer vision company Smartvid.io to create a digital watchdog of sorts that uses a deep-learning algorithm and workplace images to flag dangerous situations and workers engaging in hazardous behavior, like failing to wear safety equipment or working too close to machinery. Suffolk’s even managed to get some of their smaller competitors to join them in data sharing, a mutually beneficial arrangement since machine learning systems require so much example data; something that's harder for smaller operations to gather. Suffolk hopes to use this decade’s worth of aggregated information, as well as scheduling data, reports, and info from IoT sensors to create predictive algorithms that will help prevent injuries and accidents before they happen and increase productivity. Newer startups are also entering the AEC AI fray, including three supported by URBAN-X. The bi-coastal Versatile Natures is billing itself as the "world's first onsite data-provider," aiming to transform construction sites with sensors that allow managers to proactively make decisions. Buildstream is embedding equipment and construction machinery to make them communicative, and, by focusing on people instead, Contextere is claiming that their use of the IoT will connect different members of the workforce. At the Florida-based firm Haskell, instead of just using surveillance on the job site, they’re addressing the problem before construction workers even get into the field. While videos and quizzes are one way to train employees, Haskell saw the potential for interactive technologies to really boost employee training in a safe context, using virtual reality. In the search for VR systems that might suit their needs, Haskell discovered no extant solutions were well-suited to the particulars of construction. Along with their venture capital spinoff, Dysruptek, they partnered with software engineering and game design students at Kennesaw State University in Georgia to develop the Hazard Elimination/Risk Oversight program, or HERO, relying on software like Revit and Unity. The video game-like program places users into a job site, derived from images taken by drone and 360-degree cameras at a Florida wastewater treatment plant that Haskell built, and evaluates a trainee’s performance and ability to follow safety protocols in an ever-changing environment. At the Skanska USA, where 360-degree photography, laser scanning, drones, and even virtual reality are becoming increasingly commonplace, employees are realizing the potentials of these new technologies not just for improved efficiency and accuracy in design and construction, but for overall job site safety. Albert Zulps, Skanska’s Regional Director, Virtual Design and Construction, says that the tech goes beyond BIM and design uses, and actively helps avoid accidents. “Having models and being able to plan virtually and communicate is really important,” Zulps explained, noting that in AEC industries, BIM and models are now pretty much universally trusted, but the increased accuracy of capture technologies is making them even more accurate—adapting them to not just predictions, but the realities of the site. “For safety, you can use those models to really clearly plan your daily tasks. You build virtually before you actually build, and then foresee some of the things you might not have if you didn't have that luxury.” Like Suffolk, Skanska has partnered with Smartvid.io to help them process data. As technology continues to evolve, the ever-growing construction industry will hopefully be not just more cost-efficient, but safer overall.
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Three-sixty-degree photography on construction sites is sort of like Google Street View at a smaller scale—a worker walks through a job site with a monopod or sometimes even with a helmet-mounted set of cameras and captures the sights and sounds at all angles. And the technology has become a boon for Skanska, especially for projects like the Moynihan Train Hall and LaGuardia Terminal B in New York. “The resolution is just phenomenal,” said Tony Colonna, senior vice president of innovative construction solutions at Skanska of the new photography techniques, which increasingly can be done with off-the-shelf consumer products. “You can basically take anyone on a walkthrough without being at the site.” The 360-degree video is almost like being there, he reports. “You're in complete control. You can stop, look around, look up, look down. So you're not limited let's say with traditional photographs or traditional video to just see maybe where the camera was pointing. With the 360 you have complete flexibility.” It’s helped teams collaborate more fluidly and accurately across cities. “We might run into some sort of challenge on a site, and hey, you know what, the expert's at the other side of the country,” Colonna explained. “You can bring them onto the site. We give them this kind of experience and have that engagement to help solve a problem.” “These photographs are game-changing," said Albert Zulps, regional director, virtual design, and construction at Skanska. “You capture that space and then later you can actually look at versions of those photographs, go back in time, peel back the sheetrock and go into the wall.” Three-sixty-degree photography can also offer a tremendous time savings and improve worksite safety, he said. The photos integrate well with other tech, including software like StructionSite and HoloBuilder as well as mobile apps that allow people to locate themselves within a floor plan while taking a 360-degree photograph. In addition, it plays well with other emerging technologies Skanska is using, including models generated from 3D laser scans, VR headsets, and tech for making mixed reality environments. “What we've started to do is take that footage, and take those pictures, and you overlay them with the model,” said Colonna. “If you really want to think about how everything ties together, it is all about collaboration,” Colonna said. “When you look at the construction industry, you're trying to effectively manage a lot of different entities, from the design team, to the owner, to the builder, to all the contractors. What Skanska is doing as a construction manager is finding new ways to collaborate with all those teams. It's really about, how do we use more visual technology to help us work better together?”
The Swedish multinational construction and development company Skanska is responsible for many of the world’s biggest building projects. Right now in New York City alone, it is overseeing two massive infrastructural and architectural undertakings: The Moynihan Train Hall and the LaGuardia Terminal B redevelopment. The design and construction of these projects are being reshaped by the latest technology, particularly when it comes to “reality capture”—laser scanning, drones, 360 photography, virtual reality, and other technologies that are all becoming powerful, scalable, affordable, and interoperable. AN and Tech+ Expo spoke with Skanska’s Tony Colonna, Senior Vice President of Innovative Construction Solutions and Albert Zulps, Regional Director, Virtual Design and Construction to get their insight into how technology is shaping projects today. Skanska's 3D laser scanning has been especially useful on projects like the Moynihan Train Hall where there is existing construction. “At Moynihan, we went down into the catacombs, into the tunnels below, the train tracks below,” explained Zulps. “Getting access through Amtrak is limited to weekends, after hours, late at night. To bring all the subcontractors and people that have an interest will be putting systems in there eventually, it is pretty difficult.” Instead of trying to cram everyone underground at inconvenient hours and to mitigate problems of limited access, Skanska 3D scanned the entire job site and shared between subcontractors, architects, engineers, and others the resulting 3D model that could be imported into software like Revit and Navisworks. This interoperability and ease of use, along with significantly reduced cost, have turned laser scanning from a pricey gimmick into an almost necessary tool. “There's a right time and place for technology, and both Moynihan and La Guardia are benefited by that,” said Zulps. “These subcontractors—if they didn't have a scan, they would have to go down individually on their own to these different spaces, take measurements, make their own assumptions,” he said. “This gives them that information, and it gives it to them on day one. There's no one or two weeks of doing pipe measurements and drawings to figure out what you're doing. And that actually allows you to compress the schedule a bit.” Laser scanning existing structures helps the design and construction teams evaluate inaccuracies in historic plans, as well as account for any shifts that might have happened in the intervening years. In the case of Moynihan Train Hall, Colonna said: “We were going gut it, bring it down to its bones, and then refit out. The plans that the architects were using were not actually what was there. So once we stripped it down, we went in and we did a three-dimensional laser scan, we put that into a model, and then when you overlay that with models that the architects had, you could see the differences in some of the structures. Some of the columns weren't where they thought they were.” “There's a lot of trusses and beams and complex girders that are built 100 years ago, and they are very complex,” Zulps explained. “I don't know where the original drawings came from how the architects originally formulated their assumptions-but some of the assumptions are wrong.” Sometimes there are pleasant surprises—beams that would’ve gotten in the way but were never built, but at other times laser scanning can help unveil structural issues early on so that architects and structural engineers can collaboratively adapt beforehand, rather than after an unfortunate discovery during the building process. They can also mark “hotspots” on the 3D models, Colonna said, allowing everyone to notice slight differences like tilts on historic walls. "What I think is exciting is when technologies overlap,” said Zulps of all the new reality capture technology Skanska’s been using. The scans can also be combined with other technology, like 360 photographs, to create hyper-realistic walkthroughs. “Just a few people go down into the train platform with a laser scanner, capture all those conditions, and then share that point cloud and those 360 photos that it takes with all the subcontractors, architects, engineers, all people to test against their assumptions and also use for their background,” explained Zulps. “We're giving them a virtual walkthrough. We're giving them the laser scan to walk through and query dimensions. It saves having to get out a lighter, it saves having to book for the time with Amtrak to get down there or the Port Authority. On a project like a renovation when you have to go through an operating train station, laser scanning is just amazing.” Zulps went on: “We're making sure the models are available to people in the field. When people ultimately put the buildings together, you have to understand what they're doing and have clear instructions, and we want to leverage the models we use during coordination. We're delivering those models on iPads to the subcontractors and our supers.” Now instead of everyone having their own in-house models or drawings, everyone working on a project can coordinate on a model and real time. “Getting that information out into the field is a small thing, but it makes a big difference.” Though primarily used on retrofits and renovations, laser scanning has also come in handy on new construction, such as the project at LaGuardia. One use is quality control, said Albert. “You do the laser scan to make sure that before you go too far that the foundation is in the right place, for instance. And there have been times on projects where a surveyor might've made a mistake or there's translation error or things were changed and they weren't caught. So before you go too far down that path, it's good to catch those errors.” It can also be a good way to prepare for future steps in the construction process. “We had a central utility plant with a bridge going from a concourse to a head house, and we needed temporarily to put caps on top or pour concrete on top of where those columns were, knowing that in the future, we'd have to open the concrete up and then tie the steel in when that bridge was built,” recalled Zulps. They built laser scanning into their construction process so that “later when the surveyor said, ‘What are we gonna do? We have to break the concrete before we know where to put the new steel.’ One hundred percent, we were like, ‘Don't worry about it. We did a laser scan.’” The possibilities are still being explored. “We've also used the technology even just for maintenance after the buildings are done,” said Colonna. “There are just a tremendous amount of opportunities.” For more on the latest in AEC technology and for information about the upcoming TECH+ conference, visit techplusexpo.com/nyc/.
After tackling an underwater restaurant in the south of Norway late last year, Snøhetta has unveiled plans for a “floating” hotel in the country’s north. “Svart,” named after the adjacent Svartisen glacier, will produce more energy than it consumes thanks to the Arctic Circle’s 24 hours of sunlight during the summer months. Reminiscent of the space-aged Apple Park doughnut, the ring-shaped Svart will rise from the waters of the Holandsfjorden fjord via crisscrossed timber columns and would provide guests with panoramic views of the lake and surrounding Almlifjellet mountain range. A round, wooden boardwalk will be suspended between the support struts and guests can stroll above the lake in the summer months; the path will be used for canoe storage in the winter, negating the need for an additional boathouse. The circular construction references Norwegian vernacular architecture, and draws inspiration from both the “fiskehjell” (a wooden, A-shaped structure for drying fish) and the “rorbue” (a type of traditional seasonal house used by fishermen), as fishing poles informed the wooden support design. Wood panels will also be used to clad the hotel’s exterior. As part of preserving the fragile natural landscape around the hotel, Svart will generate all of its electricity on site. Meeting Powerhouse standards (a collaboration meant to stoke energy positive building construction) will be accomplished both through design as well as technology. The hotel’s circular edge is rimmed with private terraces, which will set the building’s façade back and shade against solar insolation in the summertime, while the floor-to-ceiling windows will let sunlight passively heat the interior in the winter. The roof will be clad in locally produced solar panels, made with clean hydroelectric power, and the building will be constructed from materials with a “low embodied energy,” such as wood, meaning that a minimum amount of energy went into producing them. In designing the shape of the building’s roof, Snøhetta optimized the panels’ orientation to best take advantage of the “midnight sun” effect, where the sun never sets during the summer months in the Arctic Circle. Geothermal wells connected to heat pumps will warm the building in the colder months. Altogether Snøhetta estimates that Svart will use up to 85 percent less energy than a hotel of comparable size. “Building an energy positive and low-impact hotel is an essential factor to create a sustainable tourist destination respecting the unique features of the plot; the rare plant species, the clean waters and the blue ice of the Svartisen glacier,” said Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, Founding Partner at Snøhetta, in a press release. Svart is being developed in collaboration with tourism company Arctic Adventure of Norway, consulting firm Asplan Viak, and Skanska. Together the four companies make up Powerhouse, a group dedicated to advancing the construction of “plus houses,” buildings that produce more energy than they consume over a 60-year period, including the usage of building and demolishing the structure. No estimated completion date has been given at the time of writing.
Recent press releases from the office of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the construction firm Skanska have revealed that a final partnership to renovate LaGuardia Airport has been made. The Public Private Partnership (PPP) consists of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and LaGuardia Gateway Partners, which is in turn comprised of the construction company Skanska, airport operator Vantage Airport Group, investment company Meridiam, among others. The architects are HOK. The deal includes the “finance, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the LaGuardia Airport Central Terminal B…with a lease term through 2050,” according to the Skanska press release. Cuomo’s call for a more holistic design delayed the closing of the deal between the Port Authority and LaGuardia Gateway Partners, the latter of whom won the bid last May. The $4 billion renovation will commence this summer, beginning with the demolition of a parking garage situated in front of the terminal building where the new 1.3 million-square-foot building will be erected. The existing terminal will continue normal use during the construction period. This design for the new terminal attempts to solve the major problems with the current airport—notably aircraft circulation, gate flexibility, and delays—by making use of an islands-and-bridge concept. Pedestrian ramps will connect the terminal building with two island concourses, spanning above active aircraft taxi lanes, as described by Crain’s. So far, $2.5 billion has been raised for the construction. LaGuardia Gateway Partners will pay approximately $1.8 billion of the cost of the new terminal. The Port Authority must contribute the remaining $2.2 billion. Of that $2.2 billion, much “will be used to pay for infrastructure around the new terminal,” according to Crain’s. LaGuardia Gateway has been promised the revenue generated by the tenants of the new terminal, as well as from airline fees. It is expected that the majority of work for the new terminal is scheduled for completion by 2020, at which time it can be opened. Substantial completion of the whole project should be reached by 2022.
It was the warmest December on record in Seattle, but that didn't stop local architects from designing their annual round of gingerbread houses at Christmas. The 2014 theme, “Jingle All the Way,” was inspired by holiday songs, with donations raised during the event (as in years past) going to the JDRF Northwest Chapter. There were the usual suspects: crystalline candy windows, gumdrop roofs, candy cane sleds, and of course, pounds and pounds of gingerbread. But there are plenty of surprises too. Callison’s interpretation of three popular holiday tunes brought gingerbread to Hollywood; MulvannyG2 put Santa in a lounge chair on a Hawaiian beach; and 4D Architects rendered the Seattle skyline in candy, with highlights like the Space Needle, a ferry, kayakers, and what looks like a sedate version of the Gum Wall, done up in multi-colored jelly beans rather than previously chewed gum. There’s also a tree-topped construction crane and a roller coaster. Can you spot them? Have a game of Where’s Waldo or I Spy. Below were the other four Seattle gingerbread houses of 2014.