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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

AECCafe Voice Techno-Predictions for 2015

January 27th, 2015 by Susan Smith

I’ve been reviewing what people have been discussing at conferences this year, and what their thoughts are for 2015. While so many topics such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) have been around for awhile, they are still very relevant moving forward. Customers are still grappling with challenging problems surrounding project delivery and collaboration. Others want to ensure that the model they build will not only last through the life of the project, but will extend beyond it into the future, for operations and maintenance. Reality capture, UAVs, scanning, data management, data acquisition as a service, cloud computing, are all technologies we have today, yet will be front and center in the AEC community going forward into the new year.

MultiTaction Display Wall

MultiTaction Display Wall

Join me in taking a look at the state of these technologies and what the future looks like for each.

 Building Information Modeling

Some years ago when I first began reporting on “GIS,” many readers had not heard of building information modeling (BIM). Now, BIM is going to be discussed at major geospatial conferences, including the upcoming conference jointly hosted by MAPPS and NSPS national surveying, mapping, and geospatial conference, Collaboration: The Map to the Future, April 13-16, 2015 at the Hilton Hotel in Crystal City (Arlington), VA.

    Sophisticated 3D BIM model being managed in Trimble Field Link software.  The model is used to manage day to day layout and data collect activities

Sophisticated 3D BIM model being managed in Trimble Field Link software. The model is used to manage day to day layout and data collect activities

Another important announcement made in 2014 that will influence what happens in 2015, was that of the commitment between Bentley and Trimble to further infrastructure product delivery. Construction modeling includes modeling of temporary works, intelligent positioning, “splitting and sequencing,” detailing for fabrication, workface planning, construction work packaging, and support for distributed construction – referencing and supplementing design modeling deliverables.

BIM deliverables created by architects and engineers are valuable for owners and those involved in maintenance and operations. There has been a disconnect, however, between those BIM deliverables and their use by construction professionals, who have then gone ahead and created their own 3D models. This situation damages the integrity of the original designer’s BIM work and fractures the design to construction process, losing the view into engineering and analytics. Bentley and Trimble intend to fill this gap with construction modeling, where the architects and engineers’ work is “preserved and referenced,” with construction modeling overlaid and as-built changes included. Each company will pool resources to contribute to construction modeling. Trimble’s deep roots in location intelligence and positioning, as well as construction, combined with Bentley’s expertise in the area of architectural and engineering design, are a strong fit for helping to heal communication gaps between those two industries.

Autodesk Studio

Autodesk Studio

Vice president, Infrastructure at Autodesk, Paul McRoberts says Autodesk is “agnostic” about where data comes from. “It could be aerial imagery, it could be ‘pick your favorite’ data environment, it could be a Revit, or Bentley environment. As long as the data is able to be represented from a pure coordinate perspective. We’ll also take point cloud information, or aerial imagery capture to what level of data you want or any scale you want in order to understand what things look like today. The biggest thing we’ve established is that folks want to know what does it look like today. We’ve taken it a step further –- what do we want it to look like tomorrow? We have layered in analytics to say whether or not this is the right decision – around traffic, airport, water systems, etc. Is it the right decision being made today for the future?”

In talking about 3D Cities, McRoberts says that the disruption during construction is a huge factor in determining how infrastructure will be built and when.

“We have a analytical environment right now that does multi-modal transportation, with a company we acquired called Azaleant,” says McRoberts. “What got us interested in them, is exactly that: I have the train, people, car, bus — all these ways to get from Point A to Point B. Instead we look at how the person gets somewhere – I take the train, ferry and then I walk…How long does it take me to get to these things?”

In Singapore they started a game-like environment where if you get off the train earlier and you walk, they will give you points for walking as part of the game. You trade those credits in for more transportation vouchers to use in other places. This has gone viral now.

This as well as other data sources, are changing the way we look at information.

Reality Capture or Reality Modeling

The accessibility of point clouds, drones and imagery is all part of what Bentley calls “reality modeling.” “We’ve put a lot of effort into being able to model reality as cheaply as possible,” said Francois Valois, director of Product Management at Bentley Systems. Reality modeling serves as the basis for design, planning, construction and ultimately operations.

Using a camera and Autodesk Recap 360, Anchorage municipal Light and Power personnel are creating 3D models of underground electrical vaults. Shown above is an image of the ceiling of a vault created with Autodesk Recap 360. Images courtesy of Anchorage Municipal Light and Power.

Using a camera and Autodesk Recap 360, Anchorage municipal Light and Power personnel are creating 3D models of underground electrical vaults. Shown above is an image of the ceiling of a vault created with Autodesk Recap 360. Images courtesy of Anchorage Municipal Light and Power.

Kevin Breslin, Infrastructure Solutions Manager, IMAGINiT Technologies, talked about new technologies that are being used by their consulting company. The list includes “not just laser scanning,” but digital cameras, drones, acquiring information at relatively low cost,and extracting from it accurate, 3D models that can be integrated into most design technology.

“The concept is not new,” says Breslin. “We’ve been acquiring existing conditions forever. Surveying is not new, but the tools & technology that we have now extend the range of possibility. For us it is a holistic approach to reality capture. We are looking at it from the 3D laser scanning side, but also looking at other tehcnologies such as hardware and software. We are focusing more on how we can work with our customers to get the results they need without focusing so much on the technology they need or a piece of hardware.”

Reality capture is taking off. No longer does it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in hardware. “There are different tools for different jobs; some tools yield a higher degree of accuracy and certain environments. Depending on the needs and level of accuracy an organization needs, we can help them find more cost effective tools and help them gain a great deal of rich, detailed information.”

Breslin talks about how a cell phone camera photo can drive a 3D color mesh model that you can then import into AutoCAD Civil 3D, Revit, etc. “That’s a big change we’ve seen. Cameras, UAV drones, quadcopters – it’s really exploded.”

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Systems (UAVs and UAS)

Speaking of where data comes from, one of the exciting developments on the horizon is the use of UAVs for gathering data that would be otherwise difficult or expensive to get.

Trimble  just received word from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that they have granted an exemption that will allow the company to conduct commercial operation of its Trimble® UX5 Aerial Imaging Solution in the U.S.


Brandon Basso, UAS Reno, said in his keynote at the recent ASPRS UAS Symposium in Reno in November, 2014, “The View from Above,” “Satellites are extremely expensive and resolution not that great, and hard to schedule. The farmer is not going to fly one, but for less than a few thousand dollars with a 3DR IRIS+, he can see what’s going on right now.”

On the other hand, there are situations where UAVs are not going to be reliable sources of information. For example, in remote and dangerous areas, such as around political prison camps in Afghanistan or North Korea, there is the fear that the UAVs will be shot down. There is no such worry about satellites.

Special GISCafe Coverage: UAS: Disruption in the Skies


Screenshot 4

Scanning is under the “Reality Capture or Modeling” umbrella in terms of its ability to capture as-built environments so that people will have a quick model of a structure without having to completely remodel it in BIM or CAD.

Bentley and Siemens PLM Software announced they have integrated Bentley’s point-cloud building information modeling (BIM) advancement with the state-of-the art process simulation tools in Siemens’ Tecnomatix software for 3D digital factory automation. This will enable users of Siemens’ product lifecycle management (PLM) software solutions to work from enhanced 3D digital models of existing factories in their “as-operated” conditions – by leveraging the models created from point clouds captured through scanning.

Data Management

At Autodesk University 2014 held in Las Vegas in December, Joe Hedrick, Infrastructure Solutions Team Manager, IMAGINiT Technologies, talked with AECCafe about how projects in general are becoming bigger, along with ever-increasing use of reality capture. IMAGINiT  is a provider of software, training, support and services to design and engineering companies and Autodesk Authorized Reseller and Autodesk Training Center.

“Bigger datasets, more partners and consultants are involved,” said Hedrick. “We continue to see a huge increase in people looking for ways to manage data. We’ve had several contracts with the army where they are managing everything from facility drawings to various documents and spreadsheets. In addition, private and commercial engineering and architectural firms are looking for ways to share data and projects.”

IMAGINiT mostly uses Autodesk Vault for integrations and data storage. “Commercial firms may want to tie into accounting, and we have integrations into some of the popular accounting packages out there,” said Hedrick. “We’re in the middle of a big one for government. We are using our system and then programmatically writing to the data tables that they have in place.”

A cheaper solution to integration and managing data is Autodesk’s Fusion A360, said Hedrick. “I think it will change how we manage data. It’s going to integrate very nicely into the design platforms and apps.”

With data management, Hedrick said the biggest challenge is the size of the models. “How do you share a model that could be several gigabytes? With one of the army projects, we’re talking about 3 TB of data. How do we share that information? With pure sizes, there’s not a great way to share that amount of information. This becomes particularly difficult when you incorporate scanned data into it.”

Cloud Computing


Attitudes toward the cloud have changed in the years since its announcement, and many companies offer their own cloud services for customers. The importance of the cloud will continue to grow, as it makes so many technologies possible. Most major software companies now include a cloud offering for their customers.

Bentley’s newly announced CONNECT Edition provides a very complex and deep common environment to extend across work groups and enterprises, without changing the basic file format of the products that users have an investment in already.

Bhupinder Singh, senior vice president at Bentley Systems enlightened an audience about CONNECT Edition at the Bentley Year in Infrastructure 2014 event held in London in November 2014, saying that Bentley’s platform approach is to extend it to include your desktops, servers and handheld devices.

“When you have suites, there is still a disconnect,” said Singh. “A goal was to improve information mobility with CONNECT Edition. When you begin you connect to a project, everyone connects to a project profile, then there is a project playbook, and personal playlist – an individual set of apps for the user.” This is similar to the playlist you get with your Apple iTunes music list.

The benefits are: reducing time it takes to get project started, to get supply chains on board, and the data you have becomes increasingly more valuable.

The idea behind CONNECT Edition is to bring cloud services to “all users across all projects.” Microsoft Azure cloud services also serves as the underlying technology for CONNECT SELECTservices, which was introduced earlier this year to all Bentley subscribers. Also through Azure, Bentley’s MANAGEservices provides instant-on access to all ProjectWise services.

From Autodesk comes the cloud product A360, a project based collaboration tool where data is housed in a central location in the cloud. It was built in response to a need for a product that is specific to AEC and “better than DropBox,” according to Bass. Everyone attending AU got a free one year subscription to it.

“A360 digitizes the way you work together, and captures all activity in one place, an essential place to collaborate,” said CEO Carl Bass. “You don’t need a separate product to do it, it is built into all 360 products today and all our products of the future.”

“Fusion 360 provides the context to understand what’s going on in your project. The cloud provides a natural hub to see what needs to be changed and what needs to be done.”

A key technology in making 3D modeling of urban environments affordable is the power of cloud computing. That, combined with more affordable software access options, make the management of 3D city models possible on more devices, making the technology far more mobile and facile.

Data Acquisition as a Service

Data acquisition has become big and diversified, and with that change has come the designation and need for “data acquisition as a service.” Companies who are able to acquire data and extract important information from it are going to be ahead of the game in 2015.

From Jon Fingland, Business Unit Director, Trimble General Contractor & Construction Manager division, comes this message: “Over the course of the next year, we anticipate a lot of focus on technology integration and connectedness. The focus here at Trimble is to enable improved value-extraction from the many datasets and technologies already in place in the industry to help service providers be more competitive and efficient. The days of data silos need to pass in favor of improved transparency, collaboration and overall process improvement.

To remain competitive, improved organizational synchronization will keep everyone on the same page:

  • Connecting the office and the field, the virtual and the real
  • Connecting the stakeholders, such as the architect, contractor, trades and owners
  • Connecting internal stakeholders to leverage data through the process, such as continuity from a design to estimating, to scheduling and into field execution

The vision of a seamless flow of work is truly becoming a reality and the result will be rapid change in the industry.”

At one time, it was very difficult to get contractors to embrace technology. Today, contractors have more choice and more flexibility in the technologies they employ to get the work done. “The winners will facilitate users in their desire to take advantage of the best tools available today,” said Fingland. “Rather than increasing the number of datasets required, making the data available to be leveraged and accessible by all that need it will, in no small way, transform the construction industry.”

“One particularly compelling opportunity for sharing datasets is in tracking work progress against plans. Connecting the actual time labor spends on a job, as well as connecting material, equipment and tools to what is on site and where it is, could feed directly into project management systems. This will result in a tighter adherence to schedules and improved visibility into the hours that are actually needed to complete each stage of complex projects.”


Today’s technological predictions suggest we can most easily predict there will more blending of technologies. When years ago, there was resistance to the merging of GIS and CAD, or BIM, now those technologies are spoken of in the same mouthful at many events, especially in areas of infrastructure and sustainable cities and disaster recovery. Where once the technologies used in manufacturing such as 3D scanning were reserved for that industry, they have now found their way into the AEC industry. Where once the need to share data was considered suspect by a great number of government and private agencies, today there is more open discussion about data sharing now that cloud technologies and other technologies have made those activities more accessible and perhaps at the same time, more friendly. Because there are so many firms and agencies involved in the building of infrastructure, the need to share data and collaborate has also increased severalfold over the past few years. The call to restore aging infrastructure and look at the health of cities globally also fuel this need to collaborate and coordinate big projects for greater cost and time saving and cooperation.

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Categories: 2D, 3D, 3D PDF, 3D printing, AEC, AECCafe, architecture, AutoCAD, BIM, Bluebeam, building information modeling, Cloud, collaboration, construction, data archiving, engineering, field solutions, file sharing, GIS, global locking file systems, IES, IMAGINiT, infrastructure, integrated project delivery, interactive display, mobile, mobile printing, Nemetschek, point clouds, project management, reality capture, site planning, sustainable design, Trimble

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