After sustaining a major blow from a pandemic-ravaged economy, the global construction industry has come roaring back. On the commercial side, while the demand for new office space remains tepid, retailers are investing significant capital in logistics infrastructure, like warehouses. On the residential side, the segment is continuing to add jobs thanks to the housing boom — recovering over 80% of the jobs lost over the course of the pandemic as of March 2021.
The industry faces a new set of challenges, however, including the rising cost of raw materials. Project management remains one of the most difficult aspects of construction, with recent studies finding that construction projects exceed their budget by 16% at a minimum (and often far more). Beyond budget, project managers run up against poorly-defined objectives, poor time management, labor shortages, and unrealistic expectations from stakeholders. One study focused on Saudi Arabia’s construction industry found that 70% of projects took longer than expected to complete.
The longstanding issues in construction project management has given rise to a cottage industry of vendors promising to alleviate the strain with software. One is StructionSite, an Oakland, California-based platform that leverages AI to provide insights into the status of work completed on job sites. Leveraging algorithms and apps, StructionSite can create and map 360-degree videos onto project drawings automatically, translating the videos into regular updates of installed work.
“The idea behind StructionSite came from trying to solve our own problems while working in construction, so we designed and built our products to stand out from any currently in the industry,” CEO and cofounder Matt Daly told VentureBeat via email. “We open the door to the opportunity for standardization on a single platform that others in the industry are not yet able to provide.”
AI for construction
With the AI in construction market anticipated to be worth $2.12 billion by 2023, a number of companies are developing products that apply computer vision, natural language processing, and other algorithmic techniques to different aspects of the construction process. Avvir’s AI system monitors construction projects for errors, while swap provides AI-powered software to automate construction planning. Gryps offers robotic process automation software focused on paperwork inefficiencies in construction. Meanwhile, SiteAware tracks construction zones using “digital twins.”
StructionSite’s product is similar to OnSiteIQ, Indus.ai, Disperse, and OnSpace, all of which track progress from construction sites using a combination of photos, project plans, and machine learning algorithms. But StructionSite — whose software automatically organizes photos and videos by location and date, comparing quantities of work in place against estimates and expended labor — claims to be the most “open” platform in the space with integration partners like Procore, Latium Autodesk, NewMetrix, Dropbox, and Box.
“We had to create a custom 3D computer vision engine for the types of 360-degree images taken by the cameras we support,” Daly explained. “In addition to the raw 360-degree videos, we also incorporate data from onboard sensors in the camera and phone to get a more precise view of the path a user takes through the job site. Recently, we also added machine learning pipelines to layer in predictive modeling and pattern matching against previous walks and similar images for an even faster and more accurate [data]. Since this system learns from data over time, it continues to improve for customers the more they use StructionSite. Our image processing pipeline also allows us to build a dense map of the scene, which is useful for customers in a variety of contexts, such as comparing to bill of materials models or when tracking progress of the construction project over time.”
StructionSite was founded in 2016 by Daly, Dan Zito, and Philip Lorenzo. The two met in 2012, when Lorenzo was working as a project engineer at a large general contractor and Daly was an account manager at imaging device company Faro Technologies. As of today, Daly says that more than 400 contractors have used StructionSite’s technology to capture over $190 billion of “construction volume” and increased the number of active projects on the platform by three times year-over-year.
Despite the growth in software like StructionSite, however, analysts say that the construction industry hasn’t embraced AI with the same gusto as other sectors. A 2018 report from McKinsey noted that few construction firms or owners currently have the capabilities — including the personnel, processes, and tools — to implement AI solutions. Out of the 12 industries mentioned in the report, nine ranked higher than construction in the percent of firms integrating AI into their businesses.
But Daly believes that this will change once the benefits of the technology become clear.
“Our technology is enabling an entirely new kind of remote work that allows construction professionals to ‘work a project’ from their home or a central location by utilizing StructionSite’s image and video capture to virtually ‘walk the job site’ from their computer,” Daly continued. “The pandemic forced the construction industry, which has typically been slow to adopt technology, to really rethink their strategy for managing projects and how that can be done with fewer people onsite so that COVID-19 exposure is reduced. What many of our customers realized when their workforces had to be mostly remote is that they were far more productive than expected, remote work can work for some roles in construction, and in fact can be incredibly productive for a large subset of tasks that don’t require physical presence on the job site.”
In a vote of confidence, roughly-75-employee StructionSite raised $10 million from backers 500 Global, strategic investment from PCL Construction, GS Futures, and existing investors, the startup announced today. The infusion brings StructionSite’s total capital raised $20 million to date.
“In 2021, we nearly doubled the size of our company, adding completely new teams like the data team, which has already uncovered some incredible insights about travel savings and carbon emissions reduction,” Daly said. “Funds will be used to expand StructionSite’s platform capabilities and extend our leadership position in the market.”
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