Insight

CIOB Innovation event: Visions of the future

1 June 2016

How do construction inventions make the move from bright idea to industry standard? James Kenny reports from the CIOB and BRE's Accelerate to Innovate event, where inventors showcase their ideas.

The innovators (l-r): Ludovico Carozza, Mehdi Alhaddad, Michael Kohn, Aparajithan Sivanathan, Sidney Newton, Sarah Davis, John Egan, Gregory Malek

Where will the next construction innovation come from? Construction Manager and a panel of experts headed to the BRE last month to see eight new inventions, any of which may one day transform the industry.

Organised by the CIOB and BRE, the Accelerate to Innovate event brings together “innovators”, pitching their fledgling inventions, and a panel of experts, or “mentors”. The annual event aims to provide advice, open doors and help the innovators make headway in a competitive industry.  

University of Reading professor Stuart Green, chair of the CIOB’s innovation and research panel, was one of the mentors. He believes that the benefits flow both ways.

“The innovators could learn from the mentors, but also the mentors learn from the innovators,” he says. “It shows that the construction sector is hugely innovative, which sometimes people doubt it is. But this a sector that has innovation in its lifeblood.” 

And Saleem Akram, the CIOB’s director of construction, innovation and development, adds: “No one in the industry wants good ideas sitting on a shelf. This initiative is not a competition – it’s a collaboration between innovators and those who can help open doors to the wider industry.”

BIM and digital innovation dominate new construction technology at present – and this year’s event proved no exception.

Accelerate to Innovate's industry mentors

Top (l-r): Professor Stuart Green, University of Reading, chair, CIOB Innovation and Research Panel; Dr Deborah Pullen, group research director, BRE; Kathryn Vowles, business development director, Balfour Beatty; Dr Rennie Chadwick, innovation and performance director, Osborne

Bottom (l-r) Dr Jackie Maguire, director, IP strategy, Coller IP; Paul Oakley, associate director BIM, BRE; Saleem Akram, director of construction, innovation and development, CIOB

iHR – immersive Hybrid Reality for Construction Training and Practice

Virtual reality training system

Dr Ludovico Carozza, research associate, Heriot-Watt University

What is it?
A virtual reality, Oculus Rift-style system with a headset (worn by Kathryn Vowles, left) that allows wearers to conduct “real” physical tasks while fully immersed in virtual environments. It is based on relatively affordable commodity hardware.

Why is it innovative?
It provides trainees and workers with “real-life” scenarios on high-risk jobs such as nuclear sites – as a more effective way of preparing them for work on site.

Has it been used by the industry?
Not yet.

What next?
Plans to improve the user experience and to develop a lightweight, “untethered” system used without connection to an external device. The main aim is to attract investors to sustain technology and product development.

www.ice.hw.ac.uk

Mentors' views

Rennie Chadwick: “The technology is great. But, with my contractor hat on, what’s the value for my business?”

Jackie Maguire: “It will be best suited for high-risk, highly skilled activities in
high-risk environments – for example welding in power stations.”

Kathryn Vowles: “There is value for this in selection and training.”

The Situation Engine

Virtual-reality health and safety training

Dr Sidney Newton, director, NewtonLowe

What is it?
It aims to improve on-site health and safety behaviour by delivering a virtual site experience based on actual project models using a headset and video game technology.  Activities can be benchmarked and situations adapted to individual needs.

Mentors' views

Kathryn Vowles: “Changing behaviour is what the industry recognises as where the safety gains are now. So you’re hitting the sweet spot.”

Paul Oakley: “There is a big push with using BIM to integrate health and safety – you may be at the forefront of that.”

Jackie Maguire: “From a health and safety perspective, I liked the way it involved a whole team.”

Why is it innovative?
Witnessing and discussing potential site accidents is a different approach to changing behaviour compared to traditional training. The proprietary system of controls allows the trainer to replay a situation, so the learner can experience it from multiple perspectives.

Has it been used by the industry?
In the training facilities of Hong Kong contractor Gammon Construction and trialled at four Australian universities.

What next?
Situation models tailored to particular projects and workplace contexts. It plans to work with BIM consultancies to promote the technology to a wider client base, and develop a standard health and safety training and assessment product. 

www.newtonlowe.com

Dangerous game: the Situation Engine delivers safety training on a virtual site

CSattAR Photogrammetric Deformation Monitoring

Structural movement monitor

Mehdi Alhaddad, researcher at Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure & Construction (CSIC)

What is it?
CSattAR uses photogrammetry to monitor structural movement on infrastructure projects.

Why is it innovative?
It is small and easy to install, using low-cost cameras to measure minute movements without disruption. Based on technology used in labs to measure particle movements, it can measure the tiniest variation – less than 0.1mm – so is particularly suitable for identifying deformation in tunnels.

Has it been used by the industry?
Used on projects including London Crossrail, CERN and monitoring the disused Royal Mail tunnel in central London.  

What next?
There are plans for a spin-off company to develop the system for commercial use.

www-smartinfrastructure.eng.cam.ac.uk

Mentors' views

Rennie Chadwick: “The technology is great. But, with my contractor hat on, what’s the value for my business?”

Jackie Maguire: “It will be best suited for high-risk, highly skilled activities in
high-risk environments – for example welding in power stations.”

Kathryn Vowles: “There is value for this in selection and training.”

CSattAR’s small size allows ease of installation

BIMUp 5D

BIM compliancy on a budget

Gregory Malek, director, BIMUp

What is it?
It enables quantity take-off from SketchUp 3D models. BiMUp 5D can perform complex calculations using formulas and produce as many reports as required using bespoke templates.

Why is it innovative?
Because it can be used with SketchUp, designs can be BIM compliant without expensive software, and cost modelling can be auto-generated from the earliest design models.

It can easily be introduced to SMEs and the supply chain where upfront cost and potential return on investment in BIM is becoming a serious issue.

Has it been used by the industry?
Scaffolding design on a scheme in High Holborn, central London. Scaffolders need health and safety sign-off for design and buildability of scaffolding, so they design and take the quantities off that.

What next?
It needs to convert site visits into sales. BiMUp 3D and BiMUp Viewer are in development.

www.bimup.co.uk

Skills4Leadership in Construction

Online leadership game

Sarah Davis and Beverley Hammond, Skills4Stem

What is it?
An online video game to collect, analyse and map leadership traits.

Why is it innovative?
It aims to engage people through gaming, in contrast to more conventional leadership training. One scenario is a hike to Everest, where the user leads a team and must make key decisions, such as assigning tasks to team members and dealing with events such as bad weather. The software assesses the user’s skills by analysing the choices, providing an alternative to conventional skills analysis or psychometric-style tests.

Has it been used by the industry?
It has been adapted by some smaller companies, but is struggling to get volume takeup. Preliminary discussions with some of the large contractors.

What next?
More industry support and building a higher profile. It is looking for funders to develop a version that will collect, analyse and map behaviours affecting health and safety on site.

skills4stem.com 

Mentors' views

Jackie Maguire: “I was really inspired as it’s a different approach. But you might have to adapt to get it picked up by companies. You might have to buy into them, rather than they you.”

Rennie Chadwick: “I could say to my HR director that I’ve seen this great product, and she would say: ‘Where has the competency model come from? What backs up those competencies?’”

Paul Oakley: “Perhaps a smaller version for free is needed to get more people interested?”

Peak performance: Sarah Davis (above left) and Beverley Hammond use the scenario of a hike to Everest to assess players’ leadership skills

Activity Tracking and Body Area Network (AT-BAN)

Motion tracking system

Dr Aparajithan Sivanathan, research associate, Heriot-Watt University

What is it?
AT-BAN captures physical motion data through tracking sensors worn by workers on site. The data retrieved can be analysed against health, safety and productivity standards

Why is it innovative?
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) caused an estimated 14 million UK workdays to be lost in 2012/13 and are common in the industry. Data collected from site activity can now be measured against health and safety benchmarks to monitor risk.

The product also allows other types of sensor to be attached, allowing companies to create customised devices.

Has it been used by the industry?
In use in two construction training centres (Forth Valley College and Edinburgh College).

What next?
Has talked to the NHS and HSE about how the technology could be used. Plans for a spin-out company from Heriot-Watt University to focus on training, wearable technology and MSD risk diagnostics.

www.ice.hw.ac.uk

Mentors' views

Saleem Akram: “My only concern is that it tracks such personal info and data. Not everyone wants things like their blood pressure revealed.”

Kathryn Vowles: “It is a very interesting concept for tracking work in high-pressure environments. There is a question about data protocols but there are ways around it.”

Stickyworld

Soft Landings communication platform

Michael Kohn, CEO, Stickyworld

What is it?
An online communications platform for Soft Landings. The Stickyworld platform enables smarter stakeholder involvement throughout construction projects, from design briefing through to handover, training, post-occupancy evaluation and aftercare.

Why is it innovative?
The Soft Landings process relies on strong communications between people of different expertise, including clients and end-users. Unlike mainstream collaboration platforms, Stickyworld is geared towards presenting and explaining data, not just sharing it. It suits projects with wide stakeholder groups.

Has it been used by the industry?
By hospitals and councils, which have huge stakeholder groups.

What next?
The aim is to sell subscriptions and supporting services from September 2016.

http://info.stickyworld.com/

Jenca

Online host for open-source BIM apps in the cloud

John Egan (below) and Connor Alexander, co-founders, Jenca

What is it?
The first online marketplace for open BIM apps. Developers use Jenca’s hosting service to put their BIM applications on the platform like an app store – end-users choose and run apps from the browser.

Why is it innovative?
Jenca makes BIM accessible to the masses by hosting BIM applications in one place. An on-demand pricing model means no upfront cost, which may favour SMEs struggling to get on board with BIM. Jenca’s wider aim is to provide an open-source alternative and democratise technology in the built environment.

Has it been used by the industry?
Not yet.

What next?
Continue to accrue interest in the platform from end-users and developers.

www.jenca.org

Mentors' views

Stuart Green: “If I had £10,000 in my back pocket I’d be too tempted to invest.”

Rennie Chadwick: “The not-for-profit principles are brilliant. But a lot of people won’t care about that. You need to show people examples of how it can work for them.”

Paul Oakley: “The industry does need some open-source solutions that can get everyone involved with the BIM process.”

Last year's winner - 3D Move

One of the standout innovations from the 2015 event was the 3D Move, from University of Reading research fellow Dr Maxwell Mallia-Parfitt and lecturer Dr Dragana Nikolic.

The product (below) was a mobile version of a “BIM cave” – typically a room in a university or specialist facility fitted with angled screens on which images from the BIM model are projected at 1:1 scale. They are useful for walk-throughs, clash detection and design consultations.

3D Move was a lightweight mobile version, available to hire and ready to deploy after a 30-minute set-up. It’s a 78kg combination of three linked screens, three projectors and a computer running the Unity games engine software that takes data from a Revit BIM model and turns it into a game-like navigation experience.

One year on, where is the product now? Has it been adopted by the industry? Mallia-Parfitt tells CM he has moved from academia into industry by joining Coins:Fulcro, a company that delivers applied technologies to the construction sector and helped to develop the product.

He took the mentors’ comments from last year on board, significantly reducing its size and improving the technology.

“We’ve developed the technology to a point where it can be used on projects and now we’re just looking for clients who are interested and can implement the technology,” he says. “We are working with a number of large Tier 1 contractors and we have interest from large infrastructure projects. With our new prototype we’ve significantly reduced the footprint.”

He adds: “We’ve made it to a point where it’s a drag-and-drop technology. We’re also able to play back 360 degree stills. The pricing model is still to be decided, but it has reduced. It depends on client and application.”

www.coins-fulcro.com

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