News about Innovation in the Built Environment

Artificial Intelligence is Making Construction Safer and More Profitable

Josh Kanner’s superpower is bringing transformative technology to the construction industry. In 2005, he and co-founder Adam Omansky launched Vela Systems to bring mobility and cloud computing to construction workflows. Ever heard of BIM 360 Field? That’s the platform his product morphed into after an acquisition from Autodesk in 2012.

These days, Josh has set his sights on using artificial intelligence to help streamline and improve construction safety, productivity, quality, and project delivery. The work is desperately needed — according to a feature in the MIT Technology Review, construction workers are five times as likely to be killed on a job site than other laborers.

We caught up with Josh, who will be speaking at BuiltTech Week this month, to learn more about and the power of AI to save lives and improve productivity. technology can help identify unsafe working conditions, like if a contractor isn’t working safety gear. Image via MIT Technology Review.

As a successful seasoned entrepreneur, what advice do you have for first-time founders in an industry that’s not always so friendly to adopting new technology?

Make sure you stay close to your customers. As you’re building your product and going into market, prioritize customer relationships. The AEC industry is about results – quickly. There is little tolerance or time for tech for tech’s sake.

How has evolved since your initial conception?

The vision was that we could unlock a lot of value in the AEC industry through AI. We started by enabling much faster and more accurate field progress tracking by allowing field personnel to take videos and photos. Our AI then analyzes what they say and automatically organizes it by things like location, phase of work, etc. So in case studies, it’s been shown to save over 60 percent of the time normally required to do field documentation. Instead of requiring people to manually catalog photos and progress data, they can now just take a picture and speak.

What we found is that our customers really liked the whole concept of AI on top of their visual data and wanted it to be applied to more and more of the information they’re gathering. So about a year and a half ago, we started rolling out a product that we call Safety monitoring and analytics, which leverages our own visual AI to analyze all the photos that they have in their existing construction management systems, like Procore or Autodesk 360, as well as site cameras like OxBlue and others, and we use that to be able to provide indicators of safety risks that reduce incident rates on projects, thus improving profitability and sending folks home safe.

What has surprised you about running and growing now, as opposed to building Vela Systems a decade ago?

How the rate of technology introduction has increased in the AEC industry over the last 10 years. There’s more going on now than there ever has been before. Everything from software to hardware to a whole bunch of services. It’s pretty amazing right now how much new tech there is and as a result, how many new sources of project data there are.

Oh, I love that. You’re looking at it from the lens of all the different data that’s available that never has been before.

I’m excited about the ever-increasing amounts of data coming from all the devices out there. One of the newest sources is spherical data coming from spherical cameras, which is really exciting because it’s got a ton of visual information to analyze what’s going on on the project. The rate of change is increasing and the ability of companies at all sizes to be able to digest that change is also increasing. Ultimately, at the end of the day, our goal is to make AI as easy to use for the construction industry as possible. So we’re excited about where things are going.

A still from the demo shows how smart tagging enables companies to layer information on top of visuals for a smarter and safer job site.

What’s your plan for growth for the company? What does the future of look like?

We’ve got a lot going on with safety today, but there’s much more to come in the future and we’re doing it in a way that is agnostic to the source of the data, so we’ll plug into wherever your data is coming from and we’ll analyze it.

We tell you, for example, project by project, if we’re seeing more or less safety risk based on what we observe in the photos and what we see in the project data. So think of it as an early warning system for safety risk. Where it goes is, we can actually predict if an accident is going to happen in the coming week. We’ll send an alert that says, “hey, this job is actually at risk for an accident,” which goes beyond just observing to being able to actually predict what’s happening on your projects. We’re very excited about that predictive analytics piece.

What one message do you want to spread about your work with

The message is that someday is today. People keep saying that AI will help transform the AEC industry — and that’s usually a way to put it out in the future. Well, that day is actually now. Customers like Clayco and Suffolk Construction and Skanska, they’re all using AI to help reduce risk on top of the data that they are already gathering. So we’re not asking people to go get more data. We’re saying, “Let’s use what you’ve got today to reduce your job site risk.” We have an easy way to connect up your existing information from Procore, Autodesk, even from Box and start getting safety analytics data. It can be done today. And I think that’s a key message: “someday” is today for AI in the AEC industry.

Want to hear more from Josh about AI in AEC? Register for BuiltTech Week to attend his presentation, “Making AI Work in AEC: Safety First.”

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