My Top 3 Tech Trends for 2016

  • Feb 16, 2016

By Kelly Cone

2016 is going to be an interesting year for Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) firms. The importation of  technological innovations from other industries will continue to transform our industry a bit at a time, and this process is not slowing down by any means. This can cause some upheaval, but for our team at Beck that means an opportunity to take the lead in our industry and figure out how to use these new tools for our clients’ benefit. There are a lot of exciting trends out there, but I picked the three I think will have the biggest impact this year.

1. Virtual and Augmented Reality

Hands down, advances in Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) top my list of trends. Just trying to name the companies with new products in this category this year is exhausting. Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Google Glass, Microsoft Hololens and Daquri are just a few. The list goes on and on. Google’s Cardboard, Merge Labs, Samsung Gear VR, and many others have “containers” that turn your phone into AR/VR powerhouses. But wait, this is an AEC Tech Trend discussion, so what’s the big deal? Well, all of these companies have shown demos or are even built around AEC use cases. Want to see what new IKEA furniture would look like in your living room? There’s an app for that. Want to lay out all your studs using AR and a laser pointer? There’s actually an app for that too. Want to walk through your Revit model real time and see changes live? There’s an app for that as well. 2016 will be the year VR/AR go mainstream and professional, all at once. So, look out, there may be a goofy looking pair of goggles on your desk in the very near future.

2. Reality Capture 2.0

I know, I know. Why can’t I write just one post without throwing “Reality Capture” around? Well, not today at least. Here’s the deal though. Normally when I say it, I am talking about laser scanning and photogrammetry. While that isn’t old hat yet, it is getting there. In 2016 we’re going to see the rise of other reality capture mechanisms. Forget about 3D, think temperature, pressure, humidity, decibel, illumination, VOCs, occupancy and adjacency. Enough people have bought into the idea behind reality capture that there is actually value in digitizing the real world and bringing it into the digital world for modeling, analysis and QA/QC. It isn’t just about buildings either. You know those fitbits or smart watches so many people are wearing? They record things like heart rate, galvanic skin response, UV exposure and skin and air temperature. With just those sensors and the right software, things like heat stroke on the job site could be predicted through early warning signs and environmental data in order to prevent it from happening at all. Sounds pretty cool right?

As a result, all sorts of people are furiously working to be the next revolution in reality capture by throwing new data streams at us. We had a first generation attempt at this in our office for about three months recording most of those items above as we remodeled our office. Like any first gen system we had some issues (like two of the three units being broken during demolition), but we got some really interesting data and at least a peek at how it might be valuable to a Project Manager or Superintendent for monitoring their jobsite.

3. Optimization

Within the design and engineering world, optimization is something that makes people both uncomfortable and excited. It is the artificial intelligence of the creative world, if you will. It is also something those of us at Beck are a lot more familiar with than most people in our industry because of the great work Beck Technology has been doing for several years with DESTINI Optioneer. However, in 2016 there will be a lot of new products that are working on the optimization of design decisions. FluxIO, Autodesk’s Akaba and Fractal, numerous plugins for Rhino, Grasshopper, and Dynamo are just some of the examples that come to mind. The right way to apply it in practice is still a bit of a mystery. Many people are worried that, if misapplied, it could mean bad things for the quality of design and therefore beauty of our built environment. But, it could also mean substantial reductions in the cost to build a given project, or big increases in energy efficiency and reduced operations costs. Bottom line, the real impact is unknown, but a lot of people are pushing forward with it anyway – and that’s good for us as integrated practitioners regardless. And, unlike artificial intelligence, at least design optimization tools don’t involve the risk of creating a real Skynet!

About Kelly Cone: Kelly leads Beck’s Virtual Building Group (VBG). Kelly and his team actively find innovative technologies and processes to change the way buildings are designed and built.