The use of reality capture in construction to document construction progress is becoming more common, and in my recent “AI in AEC Updates, 2022” article, I described several solutions that were using AI (artificial intelligence) in conjunction with reality capture data for construction monitoring. One solution that I did not include in that article was HoloBuilder, primarily because it does not use AI and therefore did not come up in my research. However, I had the opportunity to learn about it recently at an ENR webinar, where I found that it uses 360°photos for reality capture, which was a technology I did even know existed.
In addition to using a 360°camera for the capture — as opposed to laser scanning or 2D photos — for which it provides a mobile app to guide the capture process on the construction site, HoloBuilder includes a cloud platform for hosting, organizing, and sharing the captured images. HoloBuilder also integrates with several popular AEC applications such as Autodesk BIM 360, Revit, Navisworks, and Procore, allowing it to fit more seamlessly into existing AEC workflows. Additionally, it integrates with collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams, making it easier for the construction progress tracking to be shared with other team members and project stakeholders without requiring them to travel to the construction site. Needless to say, this capability became a lot more urgent during the pandemic and seems to be here to stay.
It is not surprising, therefore, to find that despite the short history of the firm — it was started only in 2016 — it has racked up over 2,500 customers in several countries, including leading contractors like Hensel Phelps, AECOM, Skanska, Mortenson, Gilbane, Kajima Corporation, Haskell, and Mace (Figure 1).
It also did not come as a surprise to find out that this young and promising company is now a part of FARO Technologies, a large, established, publicly traded company that develops both hardware and software solutions for high-precision 3D capture, measurement, and analysis across several industries including manufacturing and AEC. The acquisition, which happened in 2021, makes HoloBuilder a great fit within FARO’s product portfolio, which, until now, has been almost entirely focused on laser scanning for reality capture.
As I mentioned earlier, I was not familiar with 360°cameras until I learned about HoloBuilder, and it prompted me to learn a little more about the technology. I found out that the idea of a 360°camera has actually been around for over a century, although at that time it required a camera that rotated around its own axis in order to capture the 360° panorama, which includes the views at eye level as well as top and bottom views. Given the evolution of camera technology — in particular digital cameras — from a 4:3 aspect ratio to widescreen to a 180°panorama, it seems only natural that 360°would be the next frontier. There are now high-end as well as relatively inexpensive 360° cameras, and most of them work by having two lenses, one forward-facing and the other rear-facing, each of which has a 180° (or slightly larger) field of view. The images captured by both front and rear lenses are stitched together by the camera’s software to provide the 360°image (Figure 2), which can then be navigated with a 360 photo viewer.
Needless to say, any application which relies on the use of images captured with a 360° camera will have to include a viewer for these images, as is the case for HoloBuilder. In fact, this is the most prominent feature of the HoloBuilder interface — what you immediately see are 3D views of a construction site that you can “spin around” to see all sides of it, including the top and bottom.
HoloBuilder provides a helpful guide for recommended 360° cameras that work well with its technology. This guide is updated periodically and can be seen at: https://www.holobuilder.com/cameras/.
For 360° photos of the construction site to be useful, you need to know where they have been taken from and when. While the “when” is recorded by the camera automatically as part of the metadata of a photo, the “where” in HoloBuilder is enabled by a mobile app called JobWalk (Figure 4). Once the connection is made between the app on the phone and the 360° camera that is being used to capture the photos, the location where the photos are taken is recorded with a marker on the floor plans that have been uploaded to the app for that particular project. The app also indicates where the photo should be taken, thereby guiding the person on the site who is taking the photos. Typically, the identification of the locations where the photos should be taken is determined by the project team in the office using their HoloBuilder interface, and it is then automatically updated on the JobWalk app being used at the construction site for that project.
A new innovation is capture of the 360° photos by a robot instead of site personnel, which is done by integrating HoloBuilder’s technology with Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot. Labelled SpotWalk, this was implemented by the contractor, Hensel Phelps, for its San Francisco Airport Terminal 1 redevelopment project (Figure 5). While the robot was initially guided by a site worker as shown, the idea is for the robot to be able to walk job sites autonomously, capturing the 360° images that will be used by HoloBuilder for tracking the construction progress on a project.
The organization of the photos capturing the construction progress on the job site is done within the cloud-based HoloBuilder platform, which combines all the project data in a central repository that is accessible from the office as well as on the construction site. The platform is in the form of an enterprise dashboard that captures the different projects the construction firm is working on, the team members in a project, the project floor plans within which the location points for capturing the 360° photos are marked, and then the 360° photos themselves organized in categories such as levels, zones, construction phases, etc. Any photo can be part of multiple categories. All the photos are time-stamped, allowing the construction progress to be seen on a selected date. It also allows the progress on two different dates to be compared using a split-screen, as shown in Figure 6. A Lock Views option additionally allows the views to be synchronized so that they move together (Figure 7).
The platform also includes capabilities for creating mark-ups, issues, RFIs, and punch-lists, which can be shared with other team members on the project. Many of these capabilities are included in the JobWalk app and can be created by the construction crew on the site and subsequently reviewed at the office. Whenever required, the 360° photos can be supplemented with 2D photos, which also become a part of the construction documentation along with other data. The HoloBuilder platform also includes the ability to generate different kinds of reports capturing project analytics for stakeholders (Figure 8). Once a project is completed, an archived version of the HoloBuilder data can be created as part of the project handover, for which an offline viewer is available.
In addition to the 360° capture technology, intuitive interface, and the many capabilities available within the HoloBuilder platform, what makes it even more powerful are the large number of integrations it has with several leading AEC applications, allowing it to fit smoothly within existing AEC workflows.
A key integration is with Autodesk BIM 360, which is helpful both at the start of a project as well as during the construction. Once the connection is established between the BIM 360 and HoloBuilder accounts for a project, any drawing files and other assets can be brought in from BIM 360 Docs into HoloBuilder. Floor plan drawings, for instance, can be imported and used to mark the site locations where the 360° photos should be taken. Any additional data such as photos and other documents that have been stored and managed in BIM 360 Docs can be attached to the HoloBuilder project. Subsequently, once the 360° photos are captured and uploaded within HoloBuilder, you can create BIM 360 Field issues directly from the 360° photo in HoloBuilder (Figure 9).
Other Autodesk products that HoloBuilder integrates with are Revit and Navisworks. With Revit, the integration provides several capabilities such as creating a new HoloBuilder project from within Revit by using the 2D floor plans from the model; placing the location markers within Revit to specify where the 360° photos should be taken (Figure 10) and then exporting them to HoloBuilder for the JobWalk app; aligning the Revit and HoloBuilder floor plans and automatically generating renderings from the Revit model that can be exported and viewed in HoloBuilder; and viewing these renderings side by side with 360° site photos once they have been captured, which allows the construction to be compared with the design model (Figure 11). The views can be locked so that the navigation can be synchronized.
A similar integration option is available for Navisworks that allows the coordinated model to be compared with the 360° site photos as the construction progresses. The integration with Procore is similar to that for Autodesk BIM 360 — it allows Procore sheets and images to be imported into HoloBuilder as well as Procore RFIs and Observations to be created and managed within HoloBuilder. Additional AEC applications that HoloBuilder integrates with include PlanGrid and Bluebeam. For easier collaboration, HoloBuilder also integrates directly with Microsoft Teams so that project teams do not have to rely on screen-sharing — which can get cumbersome — to work together on a project (Figure 12).
For a relatively new application, I was very impressed with how comprehensive and fully-featured HoloBuilder was and with the large number of integrations it has developed with key AEC applications to allow it to fit smoothy in the AEC workflow. And building the technology around 360°photo capture, as HoloBuilder has done, seems a great way to circumvent the difficulties associated with traditional reality capture using laser scanning, including the cost of the hardware and the challenges of the software. In contrast to other construction progress tracking solutions, HoloBuilder seems to have a relatively low barrier of entry, with 360 cameras becoming more prolific and inexpensive, and a platform that is intuitive and easy to use. Additionally, its acquisition by FARO Technologies is a great vote of confidence and should ensure that it is here to stay.
Of course, 360°photo capture is not going to remain exclusive to HoloBuilder, and we should soon start seeing it being implemented by other reality capture solutions as well. It will be interesting to see how HoloBuilder stays ahead. Perhaps, it can innovate a way to create a 3D model from 360°photos? A “360 to BIM” similar to “Scan to BIM?” That would be so helpful!
Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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