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Construction, especially commercial construction, is expensive and time consuming. In the United States, the medium the cost of commercial construction is around $490 per square foot, and most commercial buildings over 10,000 square feet take at least four months to build. As a 2020 survey from Levelset and Fieldwire shows, the process is rarely straightforward – less than 30% of contractors complete large projects on time and within budget. Errors contribute significantly to overshoot, some sources estimating that between 4% and 6% of the total cost of the project is related to alterations.
Despite the fact that the construction industry has been historically slow to adopt new technologies, a growing number of vendors are offering software as the answer to these problems. Among them is Aware of the site, a startup developing what it calls a “verification platform” for construction. Based in Houston, Texas, SiteAware relies on AI to keep track of work done and alert customers to potential issues.
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Founded by Guy Raz and Ori Aphek in 2015 as Dronomy, SiteAware uses fleets of drones to collect data from construction sites. Raz was previously a senior researcher at GM’s R&D center in Israel before joining Pebbles Interfaces – which was later acquired by Meta (formerly Facebook) – to lead the electro-optics group. Aphek previously founded Optigo Systems, which develops electro-optical systems for defense applications.
With SiteAware, customers gain site-level visibility into the layout, fabrication, and omissions of elements such as concrete forms and steel and curtain wall integrations. The platform provides a breakdown of installation and details of masonry, waterproofing and sealants, cladding elements, finishes and exterior elements verified by SiteAware’s “digital twin” technology .
Digital twins are essentially virtual representations of systems that span their life cycle and use AI to help with decision making. Platforms such as London-based SenSat help clients in construction, mining, energy and other industries create location models for the projects they oversee. Meanwhile, companies such as GE are offering products that allow companies to model digital twins of real machines and closely track performance.
As for SiteAware, it autonomously saves site data and 3D design files entered into the platform for verification. Standard drones and software provided by the company create a virtual replica that can be accessed through a web browser. As drones fly over a site, the 3D model is uploaded to remote servers and SiteAware’s photogrammetry technology overlays the models from consecutive scans to verify them against building design documents.
SiteAware claims to have trained AI algorithms on more than 100,000 building element databases to compare each twin to documents.
“We have unique datasets with hundreds of thousands of items verified in the field and compared to blueprints as ground truth. This rich dataset has allowed AI model training to reach a high level of accuracy,” CEO Zeev Braude told VentureBeat via email. “The rich data delivered to managers and technical decision makers provides the certainty and confidence that is lacking in construction work in the field today.”
With AI in the construction market anticipated Worth $2.12 billion by 2023, a number of companies are developing products that apply computer vision, natural language processing and other algorithmic techniques to different aspects of the building process . Avvir’s AI system monitors construction project errors, while Swapp provides AI-powered software to automate construction planning. Gryps offers robotic process automation software focused on paperwork inefficiencies in construction. Meanwhile, StructionSite applies AI to construction project management.
SiteAware competes directly with HoloBuilder, Buildots, and OpenSpace, which also offer construction site reporting solutions based on machine learning. But the startup claims to work with “some of the biggest construction companies in the world”, including Hines and Ryan Construction. SiteAware customers had approximately 20 construction projects underway for a combined total of $5 billion as of October 2020.
In a sign of investor confidence, SiteAware today announced that it has raised $15 million, bringing its total capital raised to over $30 million. Axon Ventures and Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH co-led the round with participation from Lool Ventures, Oryzn Ventures, the Flying Object and Power Capital Venture.
“The company tripled its recurring revenue in 2021 [and we count] over 30 of the top general contractors and developers in the United States as clients. [The funds will be] used for expansion into the US market [and creating] new features, including AI-powered real-time verification tools and building element-level analysis,” added Braude. “Digital technologies in the field that impact traditional construction execution must be perfectly matched to field conditions and the pace of construction crews to be successfully implemented.”
One of the barriers to future growth for SiteAware, which has 50 employees, may be the construction industry’s reluctance to adopt technology platforms. While large-scale digitization could save $1.2 trillion in the design, engineering and construction phases of projects alone, according to at the World Economic Forum, the Levelset and Fieldwire survey found that only about half of construction companies use some sort of digital app to manage tasks or coordinate work in the field. Twenty percent say they don’t use any construction software.
As KPMG analysts write in a recent report, cost, scale, and lack of existing use cases are some of the factors that keep construction executives from investing in new technologies. According to the co-authors, most construction companies are waiting for their competitors to take the first step in deploying technologies to streamline workflows and improve data collection.
“One example is the promise of small unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, flying over construction sites for tasks such as aerial photography, site surveillance and even transporting equipment,” KPMG analysts noted. “The lack of clear regulations has prevented many… companies from formally integrating the equipment into their workflow.”
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last year amended commercial drone regulations that replace the previous process to add a requirement for pilot certification for night flights. According to the drone specifications, companies no longer need to request project-specific floats to hover over moving people and vehicles, but autonomous drone operations still require FAA approval.
“We are flying within the footprint of the building and at a height that does not trigger any FAA clearances, except in special circumstances,” Braude clarified. “Where necessary, we obtained permission in areas that required it due to the previously mentioned implementation. We use third-party FAA-approved drone operators who capture data on behalf of the company.
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