Oct 22 2016

ConstructPM talks up mobile tech

Construct.pm logoDigital Construction Week is taking place in London next week, and one of last year’s exhibitors, London-based Construct.pm has been in touch. I talked to the mobile-first construction project management app business in late December 2015 when it was working with early adopter customer ISG. A case study based on a project at London’s Broadgate suggests:

  • the technology removes £1 million of non-productive time
  • Construct app savies 1.5 hours per employee per day, and
  • could “save construction industry hundreds of millions of pounds” of non-productive time in the future.

ISG trialled the Construct.pm app on Europe’s largest office fit-out, 5 Broadgate in the City of London, a 700,000 sq ft project. Matt Blowers, managing director of ISG’s UK fit-out business said:

“The built environment sector has been languishing behind many other industries when it comes to improvements in productivity, which has risen just 1.4 percent in the past 20 years. This trend cannot continue into the future and we’re absolutely committed as a business to explore every new technology and working methodology that can help us raise our game and that of the industry as a whole.

“We took an ambitious approach when we trialled the Construct app on one of the UK’s largest ever fit-out projects at 5 Broadgate – but the results clearly demonstrate the wider capacity for this technology to ratchet up productivity and save the industry hundreds of millions of pounds.”

Anthony Erwin, founder of Construct Technologies, said:

“This technology has the ability to change the future of construction as we know it. We have taken the BIM revolution to another level and created a one-stop-shop app for an entire complex project. The ISG trial has been vital in the evolution of the app and the results have exceeded all of our expectations. We’re now in a position to roll out this technology to the wider industry in 2017.”

Construct claims to be “the first end-to-end fully customisable information and process management system for on-site construction work,” helping sites to become completely paperless, and so reducing costs, administration and inefficiency (something that numerous AEC SaaS vendors have been proclaiming since the late 1990s). It says it “makes forms, processes, tasks, snags, drawings, files and programme details available instantly on a user’s mobile device or tablet and therefore ensures that they always have the latest information at all times”.

As regular readers will know, this is an intensely competitive market, with several start-ups as well as more mature businesses providing mobile-oriented project management applications, including UK and Europe-based Basestone, Finalcad, GenieBelt, SherLayer and BuildCloud (and mobile offerings from mature players includng Aconex, Viewpoint, Conject and Think Project!), plus US-based Plangrid, FieldLens, Jobsite Unite and Skysite, among others.


Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/10/constructpm-talks-up-mobile-tech/

Oct 14 2016

Saas budget management with Budget4cast

budget4cast logoLaunched in the US at the recent Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) conference in San Diego, California, is a new cloud-based project budget management application, Budget4cast.

Denver, Colorado-based CEO Bryan Carruthers (a career project manager turned AEC software entrepreneur) believes it’s something of a unique product, which he says generated a lot of interest and excitement at the CMAA event. He told me:

“the application is solely for managing project budgets and is geared mostly towards owners, developers, or owners’ representatives rather than contractors. We are not trying to be a complete extranet but are instead focussing on providing the best platform for a specific task.”

He continues:

“We have a robust ability to forecast costs (as well as, of course, track actual incurred costs) and some unique features allowing documents to be linked to line items, customized ‘one click’ reporting and an ‘auto balance’ feature.”

budget4cast-screengrabAccording to the Budget4cast website, the application allows users to:

  • Customize, change and reorganize budget codes easily
  • Track all forecasted costs (committed, uncommitted, potential changes, and changes)
  • Attach supporting pdf’s to all line items for easy future reference.
  • Track actual costs and tie to commitments, changes, or direct to budget line items.
  • Reallocate between lines with a full audit trail of When, Why and Who made a change.
  • Collaborate with your team and stakeholders by inviting them to participate on your project with edit or view only user.
  • ‘Auto Balance’ lines you know will be spent through toggling on or off our feature that will automatically create an uncommitted placeholder and update it as you update other costs.
  • Filter all of your data to quickly find exactly what you’re looking for.

The product also has a “clean and minimal user interface so navigation is intuitive and efficient,” while the product is competitively priced (at least for this launch phase) – at US$49 per calendar month “no matter how many users and collaborators you have”. A free 30-day trial is also offered.


I have previously discussed other project cost control applications in the cloud, but they have tended to be integrated with collaboration solutions and focused on the needs of contractors and project managers. For example, the UK’s BIW Technologies (later Conject, now Aconex) was one of the first to move into this market in the early 2000s, providing a project financial control module to support some key contractor customers, including Lendlease and Mace. California project management consultancy ARES developed a cloud-based project cost controls platform, Worksite, launched in November 2014 and acquired the following year by Aconex. At the time of this latter deal, I also identified a handful of other vendors with interests in this field (including Viewpoint, e-Builder and Bentley Systems’ EADOC).


It is good to see a simple, SaaS-based solution launched for the construction industry that allows a customer to buy and start to use the service almost immediately, and at a price that encourages trial usage (this contrasts with many of the multi-function construction collaboration platforms which typically involve negotiation with a direct sales team, then implementation and training consultants before a project can even properly start – and with a timelag and hefty price tag to match). In a technologically astute world where customers increasingly expect to start using cloud-based services as soon as they’ve signed up and paid for them, that software sales process introduces friction.

Bryan’s business, and ‘mobile-first’ vendors such as Denmark-based GenieBelt (post) and the US’s Plangrid and FieldLens (post), get this. In short, I like Budget4cast’s straightforward marketing approach: doing one thing really well, targeting that niche, and then making it quick, easy and inexpensive for people to start using it.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/10/saas-budget-management-with-budget4cast/

Oct 12 2016

Createmaster targets project handover

createmaster-logoLondon-based Createmaster describe themselves as “experts in process led, construction information handover management”. The business provides a combination of hands-on document management services and software-based services; its digital handover documentation services are managed using an online application called DocumentPark, and include:

  • Operation & Maintenance Manuals (O&Ms)
  • Health & Safety Files
  • Asset Registers & Planned Preventative Maintenance Schedules
  • BIM integration
  • Hosting & archiving

Such services pitch them directly against another London-based firm, Dome Consulting’s Dome Connect, which built on the parent company’s experience in providing commissioning and handover consultancy (see my February 2014 post). The online document hosting also pitches them against the handover information services included in SaaS construction collaboration vendors’ platforms. BIW Technologies (later Conject, and now part of Aconex) pioneered the online compilation of Health and Safety File information in the early 2000s (post), while Aconex initially (2011) partnered with and later (June 2012) acquired an Australian based online manuals business called Grazer. Similar services are also provided by UK-based rivals such as Viewpoint for Projects, Asite and Business Collaborator.

As well as DocumentPark, Createmaster also provides a cloud-based platform aimed at building residents called Resi-Sense, and – alongside its document-centric support services and software – has some building information modelling (BIM) capabilities; it has worked with BIM consultancy partner Ibsecad to create a hosted model environment linked to its DocumentPark solution.

QA Teambinder logoCreatemaster also has links with Melbourne, Australia-based QA Software, provider of the Teambinder collaboration application (July 2013 post). Createmaster managing director Brian Dodsworth is also MD of QA Software (UK) Ltd (formerly Createmaster Solutions), and the two businesses share a City of London address in Paul Street. The London-centric nature of the business is clear from the range of case studies shown on the website – the vast majority of its projects have been in London and the south-east of England.


Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/10/createmaster-targets-project-handover/

Oct 12 2016

Aconex connects to Dropbox

Aconex logo 2014At the end of August 2016, Dropbox and Australia-based SaaS construction collaboration vendor Aconex announced (Dropbox news release; Aconex news release) a global partnership to provide integrated cloud-based collaboration solutions to the construction and engineering industry.

As part of this agreement, Aconex and Dropbox will deliver better data integration between the two platforms, allowing users to save time and be more productive when managing capital projects of all sizes.

dropbox_blueAconex users will now be able to securely move documents, drawings, photos, and other files from Dropbox to Aconex with a few simple clicks. Once on the Aconex platform, the files can be shared, distributed, updated, tracked, and searched in controlled workflows across many different organizations connected on projects. The Dropbox integration is one of many API-powered solutions that enable Aconex users to exchange data with both internal and external systems.

Chris Dobbyn, senior vice president of the Americas at Aconex, said:

“We saw an opportunity to work more closely with Dropbox to improve the user experience. Many Aconex customers, particularly in the mid-market, use Dropbox for secure storage of project files before uploading them to the Aconex platform for project-wide collaboration. Our goal was to help them drive even greater efficiencies in the project environment.”

The integration will see Aconex join Dropbox’s ecosystem of thousands of API developers, which is helping users to collaborate and work smarter by allowing companies to seamlessly incorporate Dropbox Business into their core IT processes.

Commenting on the partnership, Thomas Hansen, Dropbox global vice president of revenue, said:

“Dropbox’s integration with Aconex builds on our broader aim to engage in partnerships that deliver additional value to our global customers. By investing in strategic partnerships, we are working towards our mission to build the world’s largest collaboration platform that allows users to simplify workflows and work the way they want, anytime and anywhere.”

The integration will be available to Aconex customers on request.

My view

Looking back, I see that I first mentioned Dropbox in the context of construction-related file-sharing in 2010 – two years after the service was launched. In January 2010, I also wrote about its rival Box.net (and about FileGenius) and other free and low-cost cloud-based file-sharing services (including SkyDrive – later OneDrive – and Google Drive) offering an apparently easy way for individuals and teams to share documents, drawings and other files with each other.

Of course, such services are not pre-configured to work seamlessly and efficiently with construction-oriented documentation – they don’t include CAD file viewers, version control is often rudimentary (if it exists at all), there will be little or no support for construction workflow processes, and if large numbers of files are shared, it can be time-consuming to search for specific items.

Nonetheless, they have become a common part of the AEC ecosystem, particularly for small projects or small teams which only need to share files (and will be preferable to network shared folders or FTP). This has prompted some AEC-specific vendors to emulate Dropbox-style file management processes (for example, SME collaboration specialist Collabor8online introduced file synchronisation in June 2013) or provide integration options with the more popular platforms (eg: Newforma included Box.net and DropBox support in a July 2014 update of its internally hosted Project Center product, and in September 2016 announced its Cloud Services Connector extended support for the same two services).

Aconex’s integration with Dropbox is a significant move, with the leading SaaS construction player developing a relationship with perhaps the most well-known of the generic cloud-based file sharing platforms. It potentially provides a migration pathway for Dropbox users to transition to a more fully-featured and construction-oriented platform, while also helping link the Aconex platform to internal teams, individual companies or supply chain groupings that might be using Dropbox for file-sharing and collaboration in advance of issuing their deliverables via the Aconex platform.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/10/aconex-connects-to-dropbox/

Oct 04 2016

think project! acquires Conetics

Thinkproject-logoRationalisation of the European construction collaboration market has taken another step forward. Munich, Germany-based vendor think project! has announced that it has acquired 100% of the shares of another (smaller) German vendor, Cologne-based Conetics AG.

conetics-logoAccording to the think project! news release, Conetics AG was established in 2000 in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, as a spin-off of two large general contractors. The company specialises in digital collaboration within the construction industry, currently servicing contractors, project developers, clients, project managers and general planners via its cloud solution. Conetics’ customers include Aug. Prien, Hochtief, Bauwens, Bilfinger, Zechbau, Art-Invest, Pandion, Unibail-rodamco (mfi), moderne stadt and the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA).

The deal removes a smaller competitor from the German and neighbouring markets (the Netherlands, for example), allowing think project! to expand its position in Germany while strengthening its customer base in both the western and northern regions of the country. It also provides Conetics’ customers with some think project! functionality, such as building information modelling (BIM) capabilities.

Thomas Bachmaier, CEO of think project! says:

Thomas Bachmaier“With the integration of Conetics, we’ll be able to further expand our customer base throughout the project development and contractors segments. Moreover, we’ve also won a highly experienced and competent team in the areas of consulting, sales and development as a result.”

Michael Wagmann, director of Conetics AG, says:

“With this merger we’ve become part of think project! and the leading provider in Germany. In turn, we’ve pooled our competencies toward the digitalisation of construction processes. As a part of an internationally positioned corporate group, which is also the leading provider of cross-enterprise collaboration in Europe, we can best support our customers on their international projects in future – while offering complementary products and services from the group’s broad portfolio. It also makes comprehensive solutions for BIM Collaboration from think project! available to us immediately. As a result, we’ll now become an even more effective partner with our customers for the increased digitalisation of the construction sector.”

Last week, think project! announced a joint venture with Madrid, Spain-based ProjectCentre (post), and I noted how the Munich-based company appeared to be looking to build a strong European base to compete against Aconex, which acquired its major European competitor Conject earlier this year, and – to a lesser extent, Stuttgart’s RIB.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/10/think-project-acquires-conetics/

Sep 27 2016

Finalcad raises €20m Series B funding

Finalcad logoShowing once again that there is a lot of investor interest in mobile-oriented construction collaboration platforms, Paris-based Finalcad has announced that is has secured €20m (US$22.4m or £17.25m) Series B funding to help finance its international development ambitions.

Finalcad on iPadFinalCad was established in France in 2011 and started to grew domestically following adoption by several major clients, including contractors Vinci and Bouygues, before beginning to spread its net overseas after getting a €2.1m (c. £1.5m) investment from Serena Capital in June 2014 (read my July 2015 post). I met up with two of the Finalcad team again in March 2016, when I was briefed about their defects reporting data, and about the platform’s growing building information modelling (BIM) related capabilities.

This latest funding round was led by existing investor Serena Capital, alongside Caphorn Invest and Aster Capital. Finalcad says the investment will fuel international business growth, expansion into new sectors and advanced research and development (including smart data analytics, artificial intelligence for object recognition, augmented reality linked to BIM models, digitisation of lean construction processes, and open API interoperability).

Jimmy LouchartJimmy Louchart, co-founder and CEO (right), says: “With this new round of funding, Finalcad is poised to scale for … growing demand happening within a growing global market.

Finalcad has been used to deliver more than 10,000 projects in 30 countries, with over 20 million jobsite observations and nearly 10 million photos. The platform is used by global contractors such as Bouygues, Daewoo Engineering & Construction, Eiffage, Fujita Corporation, Shimizu Corporation, Takenaka Corporation and VINCI, infrastructure operators like RATP Group, architects, and owners such as Capitaland and Swire Properties.

Finalcad is benefitting from positive international investment sentiment previously displayed with US funding rounds for FieldLens (US$8m in May 2014) and Plangrid (which raised US$18m in June 2015), alongside more modest investments in businesses such as Canada’s Bridgit (US$1.7m in April 2016) and Denmark’s GenieBelt (which announced a €2m investment earlier this month). At a different scale and stage, investors were also very supportive of the Au$120m share placement that funded Aconex’s Conject acquisition in March 2016.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/09/finalcad-raises-e20m-series-b-funding/

Sep 27 2016

think project! targets Spain in JV with ProjectCenter

Thinkproject-logoMunich, Germany-based SaaS construction collaboration technology vendor think project! has established a joint venture with Madrid-based ProjectCenter to target customers in Spain, Portugal and Latin America. According to a think project! news release, it will hold a majority stake in think project! Iberia.

ProjectCenter back story

ProjectCenter-logoAs previously described (March 2013 post), ProjectCenter started life in the late 1990s as one of a suite of products developed by Bricsnet, which eventually became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Spain’s Torimbia group in 2010. Bricsnet’s FM or IWMS interests were then acquired by Manhattan, with ProjectCenter becoming the principal brand of a company mainly operating in the Iberian peninsula, plus parts of north Africa and south America. When I talked to the business three years ago, Cristina Niculescu said it had projects across 40 countries.

Today, think project! says ProjectCenter customers include Acciona, Bouygues, Enel Group, IKEA, Mercadona, Neinor Homes, TecnicasReunidas, URS-Aecom and Valoriza, with projects in Spain and overseas.


Think project! Iberia amalgamates the previous Spanish think project! office and ProjectCenter. The joint venture will be led by Iván de la Guía Prados (formerly think project! in Spain) and Cristina Niculescu (formerly ProjectCenter). The news release says the joint venture represents “yet another robust entity within the context of the international expansion strategy of think project!. It will also underline the continued development of the company’s market-leading position in Europe.” (The company also recently announced the opening of a research and development centre in Poland). Hans-Jörg Klingelhöfer, head of international markets at think project! says:

“We see Spain as one of our core markets, in which we’ve been successfully engaged since 2006. The presence of strong and internationally-active general contractors, engineering companies and consultants, as well as private and public asset owners, makes Spain a market with great development potential for think project!. In addition, we plan Madrid as our hub for opening up the Latin-American market.

Iván de la Guía Prados, managing director account management of think project! Iberia, explains:

“We are significantly increasing our market presence within the Spanish market thanks to this joint venture with ProjectCenter. It will enable us to pool the mutual experience and operations of our Spanish and international project businesses to contribute together towards the growth of the think project! Group.”

Cristina Niculescu, managing director technical account management of think project! Iberia adds:

We are very excited about this alliance and delighted to join the think project! Group. It is a great opportunity to expand our market and the reach of our services by offering world class cross-enterprise collaboration and delivering technical innovations in the construction and engineering industries.”

Competitive view

The think project! announcement is a timely reminder that Aconex still faces strong competition in the mainland European SaaS construction collaboration market despite its acquisition of think project!’s Munich-based Anglo/German rival Conject earlier this year (post) – a deal which helped boost Aconex’s EMEA earnings (post). The think project!/ProjectCenter JV also marks another step forward in the rationalisation of the SaaS collaboration market in Europe.

Think project!, which achieved revenue growth of 33% to €25.4m (c. £19.8m or US$28.4m) in the year to 31 December 2015 (post), has a strong position in its central European homelands of Germany, Austria and Switzerland and has been expanding its reach into neighbouring countries. Just over a year ago, it acquired 60% of France’s SaaS PLM specialist Lascom (post); in June it acquired its Austrian sales partner (post), and earlier this month it opened a new Polish development base in Szeszin.

Update (12 October 2016) – think project! has announced that it has strengthened its central European operations, establishing a distribution and service business in Warsaw, Poland, anticipating future growth there in infrastructure projects with international project partners.

RIB software logoAlso based in Germany, in Stuttgart, is RIB Software. In 2015 (according to its annual report, PDF), it generated €12m in SaaS revenues, up from €8.7m in 2014 (a significant proportion of this growth was due to the full-year contribution of its 2014 acquisition of Docia/Byggeweb); it has grown its SaaS revenues largely through acquisitions – Australia’s ProjectCentre in 2012 and Denmark’s Docia in July 2014. In July 2015, RIB also acquired a Spanish software business, Soft SA, which it saw as a stepping stone to establishing itself in Spanish-speaking markets.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/09/think-project-targets-spain-in-jv-with-projectcenter/

Sep 26 2016

BuildBinder CIMS

buildbinder logoWatching the US Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration space, I recently discovered another startup – San Francisco, California-based BuildBinder – targeting the construction project management sector. (Despite the similarity of names, I don’t think it has any connection to another Californian business, close-out documentation specialist Combinder, which I covered in April 2016; I have also written a few times about Australian QA Software’s Teambinder.)

BuildBinder was the idea of Mexican architect Oscar Núñez who identified various painpoints experienced by construction stakeholders, and, deciding that a SaaS application could alleviate these, he assembled a team of engineers and programmers to create a cloud-based construction information management system (CIMS). His brother Luis Núñez was another co-founder, alongside engineer Miguel de los Rios, in 2011. The product was initially called NK ProjectDesk (NK Construction & Services Group was Oscar Núñez’s Chihuahua-based company) but was rebranded to BuildBinder in 2014, and officially launched in December 2015, with hosting and some promotional support from Microsoft Azure (news release). Oscar Núñez said:

“With 30 years of experience in the construction industry and over 100 projects managed through BuildBinder, our new generation CIMS allows our clients to run their projects more efficiently and lower the risk they face. Using BuildBinder, our clients have reduced their total overrun cost and waste by 75% or more.”

The company says its CIMS combines project lifecycle management, business intelligence, Big Data and mobile collaboration in one platform, allowing builders, developers and their clients to efficiently manage multiple construction projects. As well as via standard browsers, BuildBinder can also be accessed via iOS, Android and Windows apps. Users can upload and share PDFs, AutoCAD files, Microsoft Project files, smartphone photos, blueprints, Excel files, etc, and can communicate with other users via SMS, email or an in-app chat tool. Dashboard views help users keep abreast of different phases of projects (bids, pre-construction, construction, close-out) or monitor particular activities (contracts, submittals, payments).

Starter pricing starts from US$250 per month for up to five collaborating users (“Read-only users are completely free”), while multi-project deals for unlimited collaborators start from US$3000 per month for 10-20 projects.

BuildBinder has entered a competitive market – even just in its US home state. California is already home to EADOC, expanding since its acquisition by Bentley Systems in March 2015, Corecon (post), SkySite (post), Procore (post), and the well-funded Plangrid, now being courted by collaborators such as Newforma (post), while the global SaaS construction market leader Aconex has its US head office in the state.


Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/09/buildbinder-cims/

Sep 20 2016

Kykloud wins major English schools survey project

Mobile Software-as-a-Service asset management application vendor Kykloud has secured one of the largest asset data collection projects in the UK.

kykloud-logoThe firm’s solution is to be used by teams of surveyors who, over the next three years, will be reviewing the condition of around 80,000 buildings in 22,000 state-funded schools across England as part of the Education Funding Agency’s (EFA) Condition Data Collection (CDC) Programme. The detailed data will be used by the EFA to target condition funding for schools during the next three to five years.

This project follows the 2011 James Review of Education Capital which recommended independent condition surveys on a rolling 20% sample of the school estate, repeating this to develop a full picture of the estate’s condition in five years and thereafter. The Property Data Survey Programme (PDSP) surveyed the building condition of the school estate in England from 2012-2014, resulting in an investment of more than £17bn in the education estate in England.

The CDC Programme is planned to start in the late autumn 2016, and will help the DfE and EFA to better target funding where it is needed in the future.

Kykloud CEO Edwin Bartlett said:

Ed Bartlett“This is one of the most innovative and largest projects of its kind in the UK.

Kykloud’s condition assessment and asset management technology will give the EFA the knowledge, tools and accurate data they require to make informed decisions about maintenance and capital spend for years to come. Kykloud is already used across a number of large scale projects both in the commercial and public sector but the sheer scale of this project and the impact it will have on determining future spend across the state-funded education estate makes this something we are certainly proud to be part of.”

Kykloud growth

Launched in January 2012, Kykloud was founded by Bartlett and former 4Projects (now part of Viewpoint) CTO Nick Graham. Since then the North Shields-based team has expanded to around 25 people, Bartlett told me earlier this month, with the business expecting to generate £5m in revenues in 2017-2018.

Initially, the company’s customers were predominantly (90%) surveyors and engineers (in 2013, the firm launched the first RICS-approved mobile survey templates) but the customer base has now diversified to the extent that these now make up just 30%. “Owner/operators are our biggest sector,” said Bartlett. “Kykloud customers include universities, local authorities and retailers, and we are also winning a growing volume of work from investors and funders of PFI-type and corporate real estate projects.” A property management inspection for Network Rail is just one of Kykloud’s recent projects.

The core Kykloud software suite comprises three main components:  mobile building surveying data collection, web-based asset management data storage, and desktop reporting. Bartlett said recent software development, driven by user feedback, had largely focused on the user interface, with improved tools for data validation and quality control. “A retailer customer, for example, has customised Kykloud to meet its asset needs, helping them verify expenditure on repair and maintenance to priority items such as lifts or HVAC equipment, and linking the surveys to data from their price books so that they can quickly assess replacement costs.”

Interestingly, given Nick Graham’s 4Projects background, a document management component now also forms part of the Kykloud application suite.

The EFA project, however, is a major coup for Kykloud, says Bartlett. “We were up against some serious international competition, and we were eventually chosen to replace Tribal’s K2 asset management system.” In a global real estate market worth US$10 trillion per annum and which spends 1% – c US$100 billion – on asset repair and maintenance, he thinks Kykloud, which opened an Australian office in 2014 and plans to operate in the US later this year, is beginning to make some serious waves in the asset management software market.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/09/kykloud-wins-major-english-schools-survey-project/

Sep 19 2016

Atmotube: air pollution monitor

atmotube-logoAtmotube puts air pollution monitoring in your hands, and enables users to share readings in real-time and via social media.

Earlier this year, I participated in a COMIT community day workshop which asked us to think about ways in which air quality might be monitored for construction workers in tunnels. As a cyclist and someone employed at various civil engineering consultancies (Halcrow and then Tarmac Professional Services subsidiary Stanger Science and Environment), I have long held an interest in air quality issues, and that has been heightened in recent years by living close to the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach – notorious for creating occasional pockets of poor air quality in south-east London (my children attended a primary school less than 50m from the northbound carriageway, prone to long queues of stationary traffic in the morning rush-hour).

In 2012, I participated in a Kickstarter campaign and took delivery of an Air Quality Egg set – but this proved difficult to set up, left wires dangling between devices, and while it could share air quality readings to the web it needed a permanent IP connection, and when a firmware update required me to ship the kit back to the USA, I gave up on it.

However, earlier this year, I participated in another crowd-funded campaign, this time on IndieGoGo, to support Atmotube, a wireless personal air pollution monitoring device that connects via Bluetooth to a mobile phone. After a few months of updates from the Atmotube team my device was delivered just over a month ago (with my investor discount, it cost me $69 plus shipping), and within a couple of hours I was capturing and sharing air quality scores from my office and other locations.

Atmotube website clipAtmotube MapOnce charged up via a USB connection, the device can take readings every second, monitoring carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and other pollutants, while also measuring humidy and temperature. To access these measurements, a free app is available (iOS and Android), and my Samsung smartphone was soon giving me a steady flow of readings, all geo-located thanks to GPS. These readings can also be shared with other users of the app via a simple map interface, and – even better for a social media addict – the readings can also be shared via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Swarm (though the latter is a bit clunky – mainly because the main sharing is via FourSquare, not Swarm). The readings can also be exported to Excel, but I have mainly been using the app’s dashboard and reporting tools (I can, for example, view results for the past hour, past day, or past week).

Atmotube app screenshotThe device is about the size of a cigarette lighter, with the casing made of titanium – making it hard-wearing and good to look at (I’ve gone for the standard metal finish, but coloured options are also available!) – and it can be easily attached to a bag or keyring. I have used it to check air quality close to busy roads, in trains (both overground and on the London underground), as a car and bus passenger, and in various offices and meeting places, and, so far, I don’t appear to have been exposed to any particularly poor air quality. As the summary (right) shows, most of my air quality scores have been in the 80s and 90s – though my son managed to get it to read in the 50s and 60s by the simple tactic of exhaling hard into the mesh at the top of the tube! (As Atmotube can also trigger air pollution alerts, my son’s action set off an audible and vibrated notification on my smartphone.)

I talked about Atmotube at the September 2016 COMIT community day and suggested such devices could be invaluable as a simple, user-friendly way for workers to monitor air quality around them both on-site and inside buildings. Typically, we take around 20,000 breaths a day, so Atmotube potentially provides greater awareness of what we are breathing in. In society at large, it could be helpful to asthmatics and those suffering from other lung conditions, as well as helping parents of young children and the elderly.

Atmotube for AEC use

In the built environment, it might also help alert us to malfunctioning air conditioning or heating, or to leaks of gases, etc. I am not sure if the current devices can be networked together (at least not yet), but such personal climate monitoring tools (maybe adapted for construction site use) might potentially help provide facilities, HR or Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) managers with constant updates from employee users about their working conditions, offering more location-specific data – and also data from internal spaces – than is often captured from conventional weather monitoring services.

I have looked at several mobile data-capture tools (Kykloud, GoReport, TIM, SnagR, iSnag, FinalCad, etc) used by surveyors, engineers and others involved in inspection and monitoring to record on-site text and imagery (photos and video including sound). Perhaps devices such as Atmotube could be added to the inspector’s armory, allowing them to take real-time air quality readings, making their surveys even more comprehensive and detailed?

[This is a slightly edited and expanded version of a blog post first published on my pwcom blog.]

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2016/09/atmotube-air-pollution-monitor/

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