Posts Tagged ‘Construction Webcams’

From Photos to Photo-Data

March 23, 2011

Some time in the 1970’s, dedicated word processors were introduced to the world providing writers with a set of tools that enabled them to control the presentation of their words, not just the content. For the first time since Mr. Gutenberg made the pen obsolete as a publishing mechanism, writers regained a measure of control of the presentation of their words from the typesetter. Thus began a transformation where communication with written words moved from a sterile process of repeating the authors characters to a nuanced presentation that conveyed, context, emphasis and intent.

In 1983, Microsoft introduced Word. Word not only continued the evolution of the presentation tools of its earlier counterparts, but it eventually established .doc as a generally accepted standard for digital document files. And with standardization, comes efficiency, predictability and eventually innovation. Since the files in an archive of .doc’s all behave in the same way, it is possible to explore millions of documents at a time and zero-in on the nuance of a four-word phrase within seconds.

Such innovation in searching eventually led to the use of tags (or metadata) to identify details within a document, allowing for categorized searching. A practice commonly used in blogs and social media (aka Web 2.0 applications.)

Begin Search: "Ark of the Covenant"

A similar transformation is underway with digital photos. As a whole, the digital photo universe is just beginning to move beyond the storage and display of pictures on a screen to the nuanced presentation of photos complete with context, emphasis and intent. The Photo-Data era has begun.

Without tag data, photos are opaque collections of 1’s and 0’s that yield no information about the content represented by the visual images they contain. Tags offer us the ability to search through gobs of photo-data without the need for us to visually interpret each individual image.

The one drawback to tags is the tagging process itself.  Current methods for applying tags to digital photos in the consumer and professional photography markets rely on humans to review images and then select the appropriate tag(s) that describe the image content. The two problems with this process are that it is labor intensive and tag selection is subjective.  Given that there are an infinite number of tags available to describe general interest photos, and that different photos mean different things to different people, it would be next to impossible to develop an automated method for effectively tagging all photos.

However, if we instead consider a group of photos from a defined audience with a shared perspective (with variances), the tagging process can then become a candidate for automation. The construction industry is such an audience and each construction project provides an opportunity for shared perspective that enables a finite number of tags to have relevance for a bulk of the audience.  I look forward to exploring next leap in productivity gains that Photo-Data will make possible.

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Top 10 Tasks for Construction Superintendents

September 8, 2010
Stumbled upon this on the state of Washington Workforce Explorer site.  In reviewing this list, it occurred to me that jobsite photos and video should play a critical role in supporting most of these tasks. I have added comments next to each task (where appropriate) to specify the role that visual media can(should) play in performing the task.

If you’re not using photos in this manner, you should ask yourself why not.

Top 10 Tasks

  • Examine and inspect work progress, equipment, and construction sites to verify safety and to ensure that specifications are met. – Photos used to record progress and report conditions.
  • Read specifications such as blueprints to determine construction requirements and to plan procedures.
  • Estimate material and worker requirements to complete jobs. – Photo archives can provide visual references for similar jobs from the past.
  • Supervise, coordinate, and schedule the activities of construction or extractive workers. – Photos serve as a reference to confirm access, availability of materials and equipment.
  • Confer with managerial and technical personnel, other departments, and contractors in order to resolve problems and to coordinate activities. – Photos augment written and verbal communication and provide confirmation of resolution.
  • Coordinate work activities with other construction project activities. – As mentioned above, photos provide information on current site conditions.
  • Order or requisition materials and supplies. – Webcams and photos confirm receipt of materials, preventing over-ordering.
  • Locate, measure, and mark site locations and placement of structures and equipment, using measuring and marking equipment. – Photos used to augment measurements and markings.
  • Record information such as personnel, production, and operational data on specified forms and reports. – Photos augment written records and allow for forensic research of conditions not properly recorded.
  • Assign work to employees, based on material and worker requirements of specific jobs.

Bigger Haystacks

August 23, 2010

Digital photos are free. Which means that if you have gone through the expense to put a camera on a jobsite, it makes sense for that camera to take as many pictures as possible. Usually more than is necessary (after all, they’re free right???)

Then let’s consider all of the stakeholders who take pictures on a jobsite; There’s the General Contractor of course, then the owner and owner’s reps; the architect and the cajillion consultants retained by the architect; inspectors, municipal, regulatory and otherwise; subcontractors, and oh yeah, anybody else with a hardhat and a camera phone. Did I forget to mention aerial photos and fixed site cameras?

Do all of these photos add up to better coverage of jobsite activity? More coverage definitely, but better? That’s debatable, because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how many photos you have if you can’t find that critical piece of information that you’re looking for.

Found it! Er, wait. Wrong floor...

What’s the Problem?

July 21, 2010

Dude, what's your problem?

Ask a project manager or construction manager about their chosen strategy for jobsite photos and you’ll get strange conglomeration of solutions. The three most popular of which are:

  • Sitecams (aka webcams)
  • Photo Documentation Services
  • Shared Document Management Systems

That’s quite an eclectic list of solutions, which leads me to ask the following; If those are the solutions, what’s the problem? After all, each solution offers its own distinct benefits.

  • Sitecams – Constant monitoring of jobsite. Remote Access. Provides transparency for the public.
  • Photo Documentation Services – A trained set of eyes behind the camera for improved compliance.
  • Document Management Systems – A secure system for archiving photos taken by the project team.

Those are all very desirable benefits that any team would embrace. It seems that each solution attempts to deliver ground level information from the project site. However, they don’t deliver that information in a format that can be immediately evaluated, like data on a spreadsheet. Instead, each solution presents visual media (in the form of digital photos or video), which serve to both store and communicate ground level project information.

There is a cost associated with extracting information from visual media so that it can be converted into a usable format.  The information extraction cost* is low  during construction when the context and subtle details (aka “tribal knowledge”) are fresh in the minds of project team members-see chart below.  However, as construction ends, the project team disperses and memories fade, the extraction cost continues to rise until the project’s tribal knowledge evaporates for good.

In my next post I will propose an alternative solution for preserving ground level project information indefinitely.

(c) 2010 Geedra, LLC

*Examples of Information Extraction Costs – time spent searching for media, reviewing media images for relevant information, interviewing project team members for background information, corroborating design data or consulting reports with visual evidence, etc.