the newsletter of tbd consultants - 3rd qtr 2014
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Wearable Computers & Construction
Wearable Computers & Construction
The idea of wearable computers can be traced back a long way, such as to the abacus-on-a-ring dating from the time of the Qing Dynasty in China. But the modern-day concept is usually dated from 1981 when Steve Mann created a wearable computer, with the computer itself in a backpack and a visual display unit was mounted over one eye, making the user look rather like a Borg from the Star Trek universe. Technology has continued to shrink the size of computers to the point that almost all of us carry around computers that have far more processing power than an early PC had, in the form of our cell phones.
In many ways, cell phones could be looked on as wearable computers, but for this article we will narrow down the definition a bit further. Here we will describe wearable computers as being portable computing devices with which the user has constant interaction, and they have a heads-up display and allow the user to keep both hands free. A heads-up display is similar to the way a fighter pilot might have information projected onto the cockpit window in front of him, giving additional information to the pilot, while not blocking the view ahead. People get into enough problems walking down a street with their concentration on their cell phone screens, and a paved street has far less potential dangers than the average construction site. Someone touring a construction site is also likely to need both hands available for climbing ladders or negotiating scaffolding, so even carrying a laptop can be a problem at times.
The obvious way to input information to a computer with out having to use your hands is by voice command, but noise on a construction site presents some problems with this. Other input methods have been experimented with, such as the use of gestures. For instance, a program has been developed for Google Glass that allows the user to take a photograph just by blinking their eye. The idea is that user and computer are linked to the point that the computer becomes a sort of sixth sense.
Google Glass can probably be described as the first wearable computer to be made easily and readily available to the general public, although it is certainly not the first of its kind. For instance, the military have had similar, if less stylish, technology for many years (the US Army has used wearable computers since 1989). Google Glass comes with a 640x360 pixel head-mounted display, voice command input along with other sensor inputs, a 5 megapixel camera, WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, and has a dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM and 16 GB of Flash storage. And that comes in something that doesn’t look too much different than a normal pair of glasses.
Wearable, or body-borne computers can sometimes assist handicapped people to overcome their disabilities. One example has been the use of a camera attached to such a system that has allowed a blind person to regain some vision.
All of the uses that wearable computing may have in construction will not become apparent until the technology is in general use for a period of time and people’s imaginations have had opportunity to explore its potential, but here we will look at some of the ideas that have been explored so far.
One of the first things that Steve Mann (the pioneer in wearable computing that we mentioned earlier) first added was a camera, and Google Glass also has a camera. Using such technology, a person on site could take a remote design team or the building owner for a virtual tour of the construction site. Also, when problems arise on the site, the technology would allow the design team members to be shown immediately what the problem was, even if the team members are in another country, and hopefully lead to speedier resolution and reduced claims for delay.
The fact that the user has the computer mounted somewhere on them, or their clothing, means that body sensors can be easily connected and the sensor data can be transmitted wirelessly back to a monitoring station. Such technology has been used in the medical field for some time, and it has been suggested that construction workers could be monitored, leading to faster responses in the event of an accident (which is still too common an occurrence on construction sites). But privacy issues might be one blockage to the adoption of that idea.
For work such as preparing punch lists or progress reports, wearable computers save a substantial amount of time wasted in reworking site notes into the final report. With the new technology, the final report can be prepared while walking around the site.
The size of the heads-up display that a wearable computer uses can be a lot larger than that of an average laptop, so viewing and navigating through large documents such as construction drawings can be a lot easier. So someone doing a site inspection could call up the drawings and check that work is being carried out correctly. And with design being carried out in BIM more regularly these days, the person touring the site would be able to see the 3-D model at the same time as seeing the current state of the building. So they could go on a physical and a virtual tour at the same time.
The use of robotic and 3-D printing techniques are expected to grow substantially in the construction industry, and smart infrastructure systems are already in regular use. All of these technologies are computer-driven, so wearable computers are an ideal interface for controlling and monitoring them.
Wearable computers is one of the sectors in the PC industry that is expected to show substantial growth over the next few years. Of course, the advent of cell phones has meant that we have become unable to escape from emails wherever we are, so the arrival of wearable computers may just mean that we can’t escape from other aspects of work either. But they do have an ‘Off’ switch.
We seem to be taking a long time to dig ourselves out of the economic hole we fell into, but it looks like we are well on the way. Here we develop a little progress report.
California Tightens Energy Controls
Energy efficiency is a major factor in building green, and in this article we look at the latest changes in California's Title 24 Energy Efficiency Standards, and some of the resultant construction cost effects.
Design consultant: Katie Levine of Vallance, Inc.