#EmpowerTheField: The Future of Field Data Collection
By Stephanie | Posted on April 26th, 2019
With new technology appearing left and right, it might seem like new apps are coming out every day, and whether you like it or not, the digital era is making life easier. In the construction industry, there are new tools being developed all the time that are designed to improve workflows. While some of these tools physically help the process, there are others that speed up communication between the field and the office. Field data collection and reporting are evolving rapidly, and information can be shared in the blink of an eye. Now, this doesn't mean we have to worry about robots taking over our jobs quite yet, but it is important to learn about these innovations to be able to keep up with the industry's development, as to not get left behind in the shuffle.
While some devices and tools are still in the earlier, more developmental stages, other incredible inventions have already made their ways into everyday construction workflows. Field reporting is undergoing a huge revolution, and the reality is, pen and paper will soon be a thing of the past. As we start to transition away from the analog methods, we take advantage of accessories that are currently available, like using apps to record and submit field data, and modern recording devices that allow those who aren't in the field to get a full view of progress. These new inventions empower the field by proactively discovering potential errors or safety concerns, and by making sure there is a record of all activity on a jobsite. The future is now!
Augmented Reality: Sci-Fi Novels Come to Life
Using AR technology means that you can see things that aren't really there, such as projections of a future finished product. This is done by superimposing a rendering onto the real view, which provides a more accurate depiction of the expected results than just a drawing or graphic. Some augmented reality systems work through computers or tablets, such as Smart Reality, while others actually pair with special glasses, goggles, or helmets.
Owners or executives of projects can use AR as a way to see where a project will be going, and calculate how long it will take to get there. If something looks off from their original vision, they can work through the issue preventatively, instead of forcing the contractor to go back and fix it once the project has already been done. Currently, augmented reality programs for construction management are in the earlier stages, and it is still relatively uncommon to see them used on jobsites. However, once this technology is easier to obtain, which should be more than possible within the next decade, it will change the world of construction.
Wearables: More Than Just Step Counters
Wearable technology, including the aforementioned accessories used to view AR, is also making its way onto the construction scene. Many of us are familiar with wearables like FitBit and Apple Watch, which are useful in every day life, but construction management-specific technology is still in its infancy. For example, DAQRI Smart Glasses function as AR and data-recording glasses while serving as safety goggles - a fantastic concept, but at $5000 a pop, not totally accessible to smaller construction companies. In the next few years, as more companies develop similar tools, the cost of products such as the Smart Glasses will drop, and it will become more common to see workers wearing similar accessories on jobsites.
Other wearables can track where workers on a jobsite, which is useful for large projects, and can alert supervisors if an injury or accident occurs. Sensors that look a lot like our obsolete friends, the beeper, are constantly collecting data from the field- be it jobsite safety or materials used, productivity, and more. It will be fascinating to see what sort of data these devices will be able to track with new developments in upcoming years!
Drones: Eyes in the Sky
Another hot topic currently being discussed in the tech world are drones. While they may not be ideal for the purposes of delivering packages, or filming nature walks (incessant buzzing, anyone?), drones are finding their place on construction sites. Drones can capture photo and video content from angles that previously couldn't be accessed, providing a different perspective on project progress. Most drones available at the everyday consumer level are relatively easy to operate, and take high quality pictures from a bird's eye view. Applications like StructionSite and Holobuilder help collate construction site photos and organize them, looking very impressive to project stakeholders, while also assisting with finding potential safety hazards and showing what areas need extra work.
Drones are relatively affordable these days, but they are not yet utilized on most jobsites. Once the industry notices how useful these gadgets can be, they'll likely become one of those "I have no idea what we did before this," staples. Drones collect field data in a way that was never possible before, and with the continued progress in new technology, the transfer of this data will be a seamless process, making jobsite reporting absolutely effortless.
Field Reporting Apps: The Future is Now
Currently, construction software and apps are some of the most accessible modern tools designed to make field reporting more efficient. Construction software has been around for quite some time now, so the industry has been able to work out kinks and develop better processes through different versions of programs and technological innovations. Nowadays, there are so many different options for construction software, it can be overwhelming to choose what is right for you. There are some all-in-one programs that offer field reporting and data collection tools, but often times those are designed to be used by those in office-based positions. The best softwares for collecting data on the jobsite are specialized for field reporting.
Apps like Raken make it easy to gather information on the spot, as opposed to in a trailer or office. Daily reports and time cards can be logged straight from your smartphone, so using Raken just becomes a regular part of your routine, as opposed to an extra chore. For now, collecting data has to be done somewhat tediously, whether by hand or into digital spreadsheets, but entering information into an app involves some quick typing and tapping, which is exponentially faster than traditional data-entry methods. Hopefully with further innovation, we will find a way to streamline the process even more, by syncing some of the recording devices listed above to send field data straight to the app. While this is not yet available, it is certainly possible, and for now, apps and softwares can be integrated for seamless transfers of information. With continued development, in the not-too-distant future, collecting data from the field will be practically effortless, empowering those in the field to work smarter, not harder.