Look Back: Dallas’ First AEC Hackathon

  • May 12, 2015

Beck’s Virtual Building Group (VBG) and the equivalent group from Rogers O’Brien Construction teamed to bring the AEC Hackathon to Dallas in early May.

Hosted at the Addison TreeHouse, a co-working/incubator space in Addison, the three-day event was intended to bring software developers and hackers together with design and construction professionals to solve industry problems. The event drew people from a variety of professional backgrounds and locations around the United States.

On Friday evening, several hackathon participants gave a short description of a problem that they faced in the hopes of attracting a team to work on that problem with them. For example, Sonja Brust from Whiting-Turner talked about the laborious and error-prone process of tracing electrical panels. She wondered if someone could create a better way than manually entering thousands of rows of information into Excel.

A few companies sponsored hackathon challenges as well. Beck’s VBG team offered a cash prize for the team who could develop the most compelling use for a brainwave sensing headset. Rollout, a Richardson startup and winner of several business pitch competitions, offered a prize for tackling a PDF analysis problem. Autodesk offered smartwatches for the team who made the best use of their web-based 3D model viewer.

Beck and Rogers O’Brien provided several high-tech gadgets for general use, including Oculus Rift glasses, Google cardboards, a 360-degree camera, the Emotive neuro-sensor, wearable computing devices, thermal sensors and handheld 3D scanners. PolyPrinter, a 3D printer company from Midlothian, brought one of their 3D printers and provided one of their staff members to assist with printing through the whole weekend.

Participants returned Saturday morning with initial ideas for exploration. The day was spent narrowing project requirements, giving up on certain ideas, starting, backtracking and (hopefully) making headway on a solution.

During the day, there were also talks on a variety of topics, including digital fabrication, web-based model viewers and BIM data formats. As a spontaneous bonus activity, Frank from PolyPrinter took a group to the wonderful Dallas Makerspace for a tour late Saturday evening.

Teams continued their work through Sunday afternoon, when it was time for teams to put their laptops down and present their work.


Team Electrical Power Safety

  • Sonja Brust, Jordan Mansfield, and Mike Cross, all from Whiting-Turner
  • Raymond Conklin from The Beck Group
  • Chris Miller, Tyler Murphy, and Leo Poupart, all from The Superior Group

To reduce errors and time required to scrutinize drawings and 1-line electrical diagrams and to manually enter thousands of rows of data into Excel, this team’s hack involved exporting their Revit model to a SQL database and creating a web page that could trace upstream and downstream electrical equipment. Future enhancements could include lock-out/tag-out management, equipment commissioning and facilities management.


Team Cyborg

  • Tim Logan from HKS

Tim took Beck’s challenge to develop an application for the Emotiv brainwave detection headset. He was able to link the Emotiv to a model of a cube in Rhino 3D and control it with facial gestures. By smiling, he could make the cube twist, by blinking he could clone the cube, and by using “upper face power” (we’re still trying to figure out what that means!), he could make the cube grow taller.


Team VR-Steve

  • Ron Dagdag from Thyssen Krupp

Ron used the Autodesk cloud-based “View and Data API” to display a stereoscopic model on a smartphone mounted in a Google cardboard. His hack would allow multiple people to view the same model, each with their own cellphone/cardboard setup and each tracking independent views — think “guided tour” for 3D models where you follow the tour guide but are free to look around on your own. Ron integrated a leap motion device for added input control so that an object could be overlaid on all viewers’ screens.


Team Capture Map

  • Sonali Kumar from Balfour Beatty
  • Joe Williams from Rogers O’Brien
  • Chris Callen from Builders Plus Construction

The team created a Google maps and Flickr mashup for organizing project photos. Geotagged photos are uploaded to Flickr and displayed on a Google map that can also display building floorplans. 360-degree photos can be viewed onscreen or through an Oculus Rift. A live demo can be seen at http://aec.starkjoe.com/. In a future iteration, the map pins could be dragged for more precise positioning, and the latitude/longitude written back to the photo stored in Flickr.


A full list of team awards can be found here.

Thank you to all participants, speakers, the AEC Hackathon organization and the Addison Tree House.