Seattle, US-based startup Unearth has launched a cloud-based construction collaboration application that merges aerial and ground-level data, potentially capitalising on the growing use of site surveys via UAVs or drones. Its proposition is summed up as: “Unearth provides interactive aerial maps of your projects, secure storage for your build history, and simple collaboration for your entire team.”
Now nine-strong, Unearth was founded by three people who had previously helped build a hotel marketing platform, Buuteeq (acquired by Priceline in 2014). Aware of construction’s consistently declining productivity rates and what they regarded as a lack of innovation in construction software, the team focused on merging all construction data sources into a snapshot of project status. Unearth CEO Brian Saab says:
“When you look at software in the construction sector, you’ll either see folks replacing existing pen and paper processes with digital forms, or you see advanced remote sensing data sequestered among a few tech-geeks working in an office far from the jobsite. We democratize all the information captured on a construction project and use it to jumpstart real-time discussion and decision-making across remote offices and the jobsite. Our software literally changes how information flows, how decisions are made, and how projects are completed.”
The platform combines:
- mobile technologies
- aerial imagery (from drones and satellites – Unearth is putting projects in touch with drone survey companies if they are not already using drones, but if a site is in restricted airspace, high resolution aerial imagery captured by aircraft can be provided instead)
- artificial intelligence (AI) and spatial analysis, and
- secure cloud-based networks.
These provide a new frame of reference for every member of a construction team, helping them coordinate build activities, direct supply deliveries, and monitor safety – all via a browser, or via native iOS or Android apps (which are currently in development). According to a news release I received:
“For weekly and monthly progress updates, the platform offers spatial and distance measurement tools to determine exactly what has been built. Over the life of a project, the activity feed stores a record of all conversations, pictures, and measurements by location, so precise build evidence can be retrieved and analyzed whenever the need arises.”
The Unearth website outlines some scenarios. For example:
“Instant progress updates by location – You need on-demand capability to get project statuses. With Unearth, it’s simple: 1. Pull up your aerial map, 2. Drag a beacon to the location. We’ll immediately notify whoever’s closest or the team member of your choice, so they can instantly upload photos and a detailed report.”
“Resolve contract disputes – The best way to end an argument is with hard evidence. Unearth securely stores and organizes your entire build history in our cloud, so you can: retrieve clear aerial photos of your build history, geosearch ground-based images and conversations, accurately measure distance and volume. Transform potential litigation into a minor hiccup within minutes.”
An Unearth customer, Casey Dougherty, a construction manager at IMCO Construction said: “The historical documentation we are able to compile from the product helps reduce claims, quantify materials and production, and helps build a solid jobsite portfolio.” The software has apparently been tested on a wide variety of projects by businesses with annual revenues between $20 million and $2 billion. The product is licensed per project with no limit on number of users or volume of data stored, but the Unearth website currently gives no product pricing information.
It is also not clear from the company’s website what type(s) of projects are most appropriate for the Unearth service, but I suspect the primary target market would be civil engineering works and infrastructure projects, maybe also the groundworks of building projects (it is difficult to see how the aerial imagery might cover issues inside enclosed buildings or in subterranean works). It is, though, the type of product that might be integrated with other collaborative platforms.
The reality-capture focus on as-built works, perhaps coupled with photogrammetry and GIS, reminded me of Nearmap, an Australian technology business I discussed with Incite in 2010, of Infrakit, a Finnish-developed civil engineering project management platform I wrote about in April 2016, and some of the Bentley Context Capture tools shown at recent Year in Infrastructure conferences.