3D capture for construction is like SimCity (but for real)

3D capture technologies in arm's race for future of construction and inspection.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Last year we floated the idea of moving construction workers (or at least a portion of on-site workers) to remote work arrangements. On the heels of recent announcements, competing firms Buildots and OpenSpace are pushing that scenario closer to reality with their 360° video capture solutions for construction. 

Construction accounts for 13% of the world's GDP, but while other traditional industries, like manufacturing, have increased productivity over the years, productivity has remained almost stagnant in the building sector. According to the European Commission, construction productivity has only increased by 1% in the past two decades. And with operational profitability often being only 5%, there is little room for error. 

That's one reason development dollars are pouring into the space. Automated documentation platforms, which stitch together captured images in a digital replica of physical spaces, are fast becoming key tools for inspection and project management, including in construction. The idea is that construction workers snap a small camera to their hardhat before walking the site. The images are organized and stitched together in the cloud, creating a living model of a job's progress.

Buildots, an AI construction tech company, recently announced a $30 million Series B round led by Lightspeed Ventures with the participation of previous investors. Buildots' AI algorithms automatically validate images captured by hardhat-mounted 360° cameras, detecting gaps between the original design, scheduling, and the construction site's reality.

In what might read as something of a counterpunch, OpenSpace, which makes a similar platform, recently released OpenSpace Basic to qualified builders for free.

"Over the past year, we've heard from builders that they wanted to have more access to the automated convenience of our standard video site capture product, which inspired us to create OpenSpace Basic," says Jeevan Kalanithi, CEO and co-founder of OpenSpace. "OpenSpace Basic is a big jump forward from our earlier free products. We firmly believe that automated site documentation will be as ubiquitous on construction sites as a nail gun or ladder, so we want to make our platform available to as many builders as possible today."

The free debut of the technology tracks a larger trend of digitization on the job site.

"Even prior to the current pandemic," Kalanithi told us last year, "we were beginning to see wider adoption of digital tools on job sites, including those that enable remote work, like photo documentation. The situation we're in now will likely lead to an acceleration in the adoption of these types of technologies, but this is the direction that the industry was heading in regardless."

Similar technologies have made their way into the construction industry from firms like HoloBuilder, Matterport, and Drone Deploy, part of a wave of 3D mapping firms that are applying the technology to an array of industries and sectors.

"When it comes to digital transformation, construction has been a sleeping giant and COVID-19 served as an accelerator for the industry,'' said Roy Danon, co-founder and CEO of Buildots. "We are now working with construction companies in over a dozen countries, and what we're seeing is that the challenges Buildots is addressing are ubiquitous around the world. A global expansion at the rate we've experienced would have ordinarily been impossible in an industry like construction that has its roots in handshake deals and in-person relationships without the new covid reality of remote meetings and even deal signings." 

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