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Geolocation: Usable data for the future of construction

Geolocation: Usable data for the future of construction

By Mike Landers

The concept of global positioning is not a new one. Launched by the US Department of Defense in 1973 and first made available for public and commercial use in the mid-90s, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have become nearly ubiquitous in the era of smart phones and mobile technology. Now, most automobiles, smart watches and surveillance equipment carry GPS capabilities, and the advancement of rideshare apps has only increased the general population’s acquaintance with the concept. In the last several years, the construction industry has also been making good use of geolocation to capture a variety of jobsite data to drive efficiency and information sharing among project stakeholders.

“[Geolocation] in the construction sense involves [delivering] data to help people in the field make decisions they need to make,” says Hensel Phelps VDC Manager Will Plato. “Whether this is from a phasing standpoint, different operations, all the way to safety factors, to me this is what ‘geolocation’ means. We can take this info and have it available on mobile devices and tablets so when we are standing out in the field we [know] what is around us.” Plato’s belief that this data can have a very positive effect on real-time decision-making is being echoed throughout industry as geolocation is becoming an applicable technology on a wider basis.

Laser scanning, drone and photo capture, and QA/QC are all different pieces of the geolocation puzzle; which is ultimately aimed at collecting big data and making it available on the jobsite. “Laser scanning has always been a huge factor in our coordination. We’re getting more of that precise information and this allows the geolocation to happen on the [planning] side, where you’re dealing with real-world data as you coordinate systems, validate installs, and recognize changes that you need to adapt to,” says Plato.

Geolocated photos are another way GPS technology has made a huge impact on the jobsite. This allows the user to integrate the location of an image directly into the project plan. “In this last year, we’ve been able to take the technology of 3600 photos located on documents and models to employ artificial intelligence and machine learning to understand how our site is progressing,” explains Plato. “We can establish positions throughout the life of the job and we can always go back and do a comparison. This offers a platform on mobile devices so your field can instantly look at the info in the 3D model and validate the progress in the field and get a feel for what’s in that design.”

Having the locations mapped out for the lifetime of a project is also a huge benefit when it comes to communication with clients or project designers, in the sense that real-time coordination can be visualized by owners. “That can be the handover deliverable we can push forward,” says Plato. This is beneficial in the avenues of safety, materials tracking, and even site progress. “Quantities associated, being extracted and compared on the back end, materials tracking; it’s a great way to act as a QA/QC concept when we are trending our progression. It is coming to the point where we can use it to go gut check ourselves.”

The advent of geolocation capabilities and data is simply offering a new platform to send and receive more accurate and detailed information than previous data capture methods, yielding a more interactive and fluid result. “We aren’t really changing our process, we are [just] able to do more with it,” concludes Plato.