August 29, 2011
Committee Showcase Features Today’s Breakthrough Technologies
Chicago, IL – While radio frequency identification (RFID), 3D printing, laser scanning, photogrammetry, head-mounted computing, and robotics might sound like the stuff of gadget-head dreams, these technologies have current applications in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. Members of CII’s Breakthrough Strategy Committee (BTSC) are asked to track the development, applicability, and availability of such innovations, and were invited to introduce them to CII members at the 2011 CII Annual Conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago in July. To do this, the committee hosted its first-ever conference Technology Corner—literally using a corner in the lobby of the hotel’s conference area—to demonstrate these and other tools to conference participants.
In addition to RFID tags, 3D printing, laser scanning, digital photogrammetry, head-mounted computing, the BTSC selected tablet computing, digital pens, and a quad rotor helicopter as technologies to be demonstrated. With the help of representatives from select suppliers, the committee sought not only to show how to use the tools, but also to speak to their applications in the AEC industry. Committee members and suppliers demonstrated these applications throughout the two-day event.
RFID tags were hosted and presented by IDS Tags, the representative of which demonstrated how RFID tracking and traceability functions can be used for material tracking and equipment installation on job sites. A selection of specific tags for use on metal and other construction material was also on display. RFID tags can be now be used and attached on any material for tracking.
Conference participants expressed particular interest in the 3D printer that ZCorp representatives had set up. On display was the only 3D printer capable of color printing of models. The printer produced several models during the annual conference including a scaled down boiler room and a pipe rack full of lines from the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing trades. (See Figure 1.) The printer works by binding a 0.004″ layer of powder together with a binder fluid, as it builds model structures from the bottom up. Unused powder is recycled through a vacuuming process when the model is transferred to the printer’s finishing compartment. In the finishing compartment, a small pneumatic blower removes any remaining powder. The user can then choose from among several options to give the model the desired finish.
Also on display were two dueling technologies for 3D imaging. FARO Technologies showcased its latest phase-based 3D laser scanner, FARO Focus 3D. (See Figure 2.) This compact, highly mobile scanner accurately captures 3D data for entire construction scenes at a very high speed and stores it as dense range point clouds. The Focus 3D deploys an integrated color camera with automatic and parallax-free color overlay for photorealistic 3D scans.
Representatives of the Kopin Corporation demonstrated head-mounted computing with their Golden-I product. (See Figure 3.) The computer-desktop-like interface of the Golden-I is controlled through voice commands, and features a headset that allows for hands-free viewing of documents and drawings. The user can upload documents, pictures, or videos through a micro-SD slot or Bluetooth connection. (The device has a 32 GB capacity.)
University of Waterloo introduced digital photogrammetry, a cost-effective alternative to 3D laser scanning, demonstrating the PhotoModeler Scanner software. PhotoModeler Scanner creates accurate, high-quality 3D models and measurements from photographs. (See Figure 4.) Using a process called photo-based 3D scanning, it produces a dense point cloud from photographs of textured surfaces of virtually any size.
The tablet computing display showcased two applications from developers of CAD/BIM applications, one in Bentley (not commercially available yet) and one in AutoDesk (currently in the Apple App Store). These two products demonstrated that design and construction documents are easily viewed and edited in a mobile tablet format in the app environment. They also make it easy to navigate through computer-generated models, providing tools that are similar to the desktop versions of the software; users can “fly” through the panorama models and mesh together their physical field locations with locations in the drawing environment.
Digital pen products by Adapx and Bentley were demonstrated for their applications for drawing mark-ups. These devices allow for mark-ups to a paper document that can be easily transferred onto a digital version of the same document. Some of the pens also allow for voice recording and playback during editing, for later reference. The software accompanying the pens generates copies of documents with a specific “dot pattern” in their backgrounds. As the pens are used on the documents, they recognize these patterns and can relate the marks being made to the digital versions. The pens are placed into a simple USB-connected dock and automatically upload the edits to the documents. Bentley can even use native DWG or DGN files. Adapx software can create a data collection form in Excel, and then collect information on the paper form with the pen, upload the writing, and convert the pen strokes into actual data.
The technology that made the strongest impression was the quad-rotor helicopter. This device, also known as the AR.Drone, has the same functions as a real unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). iPhone- or iPad-controlled, this small helicopter flew around the banquet hall, showing off its stability and agility. (See Figures 5 and 6.) Capable of flying up to 11 mph for up to 12 minutes on a 90-minute charge, the AR.Drone has a front-facing wide angle camera and a vertical high-speed camera. Both cameras can capture single, periodic pictures, or even video. When controlled from an iPhone, the device streams live video images to the iPhone to permit remote inspection and visualization of inaccessible or difficult-to-reach spaces on jobsites.
BTSC members want to express their thanks to all the conference attendees who took part in the Technology Corner. They hope everyone found value in the technologies and information demonstrated. They also extend their thanks to the CII staff who helped make the showcase a success.