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Canadian construction ripe for tech innovation

Andre Widjaja
Canadian construction ripe for tech innovation

The upcoming year could bring in some new technological innovations to the construction industry and across its jobsites, according to Bridgit’s co-founder.

"Construction sites are adopting technology at a quick pace and it’s just getting faster and faster," said Lauren Hasegawa, one of the two co-founders of the cloud-based communications platform Bridgit.

"It’s really important for us to look at what’s on the cutting edge in terms of technology and then think about how they can be applied in the industry."

Bridgit presented some of the construction technology trends for 2015 during the recent Canadian Construction Association board of directors meeting in Quebec.

"We wanted to show that there’s other applications that can be used in these industries like construction," she said.

Hasegawa says the emergence of phablets — a mobile device that’s larger than a smartphone but smaller than a tablet — could replace the tablets on jobsites completely.

"That’s really been increased by the announcement of Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus," she added.

"Construction companies are often struggling between, do they invest in iPads or tablets that allow for a larger screen size?"

A phablet would provide a large enough screen size to view drawings and detailed reports while maintaining the key features of a smartphone.

Another trend expected to be more prominent is the application of wearable technology, such as Google Glass and the gesture-enabled Myo armband from Thalmic Labs.

Bridgit has already launched its deficiency management platform, Closeout, using wearable technology on some work sites.

The technology allows a worker to report deficiencies by sending real-time notifications to the appropriate subcontractor, all without having to drop what they’re doing.

"Rather than taking my phone out of my pocket or taking off my gloves, or putting down the materials I’m holding, I can do that all as I go," Hasegawa said.

"The idea that we essentially launched with them is that, if I’m project manager, I could be out on-site with my Myo armband and Google Glass and I can be controlling Bridgit through hand gestures and being able to view everything right there on the Google Glass."

She adds the emergence of wearable technology will make the interaction between humans and computers much more seamless.

Bridgit also has ideas on how the industry can apply near-field communication (NFC) to its job sites. Currently, NFC is commonly used to make mobile payments, such as the tap-to-pay system used in some smartphones.

"NFC for construction is exciting because it’s a very quick form of data," she said. "It’s a very seamless way to store data and then being able to access it using your phone."

The technology could be used for materials tracking, which will ensure that parts and materials arrive on-site and that nothing is missing.

It can be used to improve jobsite safety as well. For example, NFC tags placed on hardhats allow the project manager and supervisors to track each worker entering and leaving a site, as well as access to workers safety accreditations.

With these technologies at the industry’s disposal, Bridgit envisions that jobsites can go paperless altogether.

Driven by cloud-based applications, a paperless process would require jobsites to support strong Wi-Fi strength to download large files, compatible devices and a new way to organize and label files on the cloud.

"Let’s bring on all these different software solutions and move from this paper process to the paperless jobsite," said Hasegawa.

The key to implementing new technologies will depend on a smooth transition that successfully provides workers with training.

"We wanted to highlight how important it is to have 100 per cent buy in where everybody is trained and everybody understands basically what’s going to happen with the new solutions," she said.

"If software solutions aren’t onboarded in the best way, you’ll have half the people using software, half the people using pen and paper. You can end up in a worse place than if you were to do it in the standard way. You could end up with some information in one place, some information is in another place."

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