The construction industry is ripe for some innovation, or disruption, or whatever else you want to call it. As I’ve written before, there are a host of factors that make the industry tough to automate, starting with the individual nature of each building site and ending with the 20-30 different trades involved in getting a building from foundation to finish-out.
Which is why, for a large number of companies, the initial step to automation is figuring out what’s happening on the job site. An easy way to do this is via a camera and computer vision. Using existing cameras, a startup called Indus.ai maps construction sites, tracks the flow of people and materials, and then uses the data gleaned from the cameras to anticipate any problems.
Construction companies like it because the technology doesn’t require any changes to their existing workflows, and in many cases, they already have cameras around the site to prevent theft. Other companies, such as Versatile Nature and Pillar Technology, are also trying to modernize the information flow around construction sites using sensor-based technology, not just cameras.
Matt Man, co-founder and CEO at Indus, says his business has seen an uptick in the last 12 months as more and more developers become aware of the benefits of using AI on job sites. And once developers use the technology, they can see pretty quick returns on the investment, says Man. Even something as trivial as knowing when a trade worker is running behind can help prevent other crews from waiting around getting paid when they can’t do the job.
Indus charges a monthly fee per camera for the software that’s taking in the images and generating the insights. Indoor cameras cost more than outdoor cameras because they tend to have more information, and because tradespeople working on a space and figuring out what people are doing is more complicated inside when compared to outside.
Indus recently raised an initial round of funding that it plans to announce soon. It has 27 employees, a number it intends to double. My hunch is that as the construction industry embraces more of this type of technology, we’ll see startups getting bought out as their algorithms become more robust and their value becomes well defined.
There have already been a handful of acquisitions associated with electronic documents and plans in the construction industry. While it may seem silly that so many firms are still using paper documents to share diagrams and work order changes on massive projects, that’s how far behind the world of construction is. In 2018, Autodesk acquired PlanGrid as part of a modernization effort and Trimble paid $1.2 billion for Viewpoint, a similar company.
These recent M&A deals were focused on the early stages of construction and on digitizing the flow of data among architects, planners, and contractors. The next phase, which will use cameras, sensors, and AI to track the actual building of an office or apartment will be the next generation of technology bringing construction into the 21st century.