Nemetschek has led a financing round for Norway’s Imerso, whose platform combines reality capture, AI and BIM – areas also targeted by UK players XYZ Reality and PointFuse.
Having invested in June 2021 in Sablono (post) [Update: and in July 2021 in US-based AI developer Reconstruct*], Germany-based Nemetschek Group has led a financing round [financial terms not published] for Imerso AS. The Norway-based deep-tech company offers a platform to automate construction quality monitoring through a combination of advanced artificial intelligence (AI), reality capture and BIM technologies.
The solution is said to enable easy, everyday use of industry grade 3D scanners on site. The scanners capture the as-built status throughout the construction phase with point clouds – a collection of 3D data points that accurately digitise real-life physical spaces, such as a building, a floor, or a room. Imerso’s cloud-based platform automatically analyses the captured 3D scan data against the plan in BIM. Combining AI and advanced computer vision, it highlights and lists in real-time any relevant work deviations or issues, so these can be resolved efficiently through re-planning or fixes on site.
imerso – “an efficient roadmap for accurate, as-built digital twins”
By connecting the BIM model directly to the as-built snapshot on site, the company says Imerso delivers an efficient roadmap for accurate, as-built digital twins – with benefits across the building life-cycle.
“Imerso is a perfect fit to our goal of helping our customers worldwide shape the world,” says Axel Kaufmann, spokesman and CFOO of Nemetschek. Tanja Kufner, head of start-ups and venture Investments at Nemetschek says: “We see great synergies, particularly with … Solibri. Both companies are on a mission to improve the quality of construction and to create better buildings. Customers can accurately monitor the project’s progress and efficiently improve the results.”
Combining the technologies of Solibri and Imerso will significant opportunities for owners, engineers, and contractors. They can monitor the progress and quality of work on site at a detailed level and produce reliable final client deliverables for the management of the facility. Frederico Valente, founder and CEO of Imerso, says:
“This is a tremendous step in our journey, as we continue scaling our solution with some of the leading players in our industry. Partnering with the Nemetschek Group is rocket fuel for us to leverage their deep roots in the construction sector and in-depth knowledge, and to accelerate the go-to-market strategy of our technology.”
The Norwegian start-up has been developing its solution in collaboration with leading research institutes and some of the largest industry players in the Nordics. Seven million square meters of floor have already been captured in the platform across several customer projects (Update – 11 December 2022 – see Betonmast case study). Imerso is currently being used on some of the largest and most ambitious projects in Scandinavia and central Europe.
The investment in Imerso is described as a strong continuation of the Nemetschek Group strategy of supporting young companies to shape the future AEC/O market and drive innovation.
In the same space: XYZ Reality and PointFuse
Reality capture tools were strongly in evidence at the Digital Construction Week show in London in November 2021 (post). Two UK-based firms are working in the same kind of territory as Imerso, albeit offering subtly different solutions.
In June 2021, London-based construction augmented reality (AR) technology developer XYZ Reality announced it had raised £20m (c €23.3m or US$27.8m) in a Series A funding round (Irish Times article; see also AEC Business). The funding round was led by Octopus Ventures, with participation from existing investors Adara Ventures, Amadeus Capital Partners, Hoxton Ventures and J Coffey Construction (the company previously raised £4.9m–c. €5.7m or US$6.8m–in March 2020 – EU Startups). New investment also came from Activum SG, Optimas Capital and Tishman Speyer.
To date, the technology has been used on projects worth more than £1.5b billion to date, including data centres, pharmaceutical facilities and airports. Customers include the UK-based Mace group, where its solution is being used in construction of a hyper-scale data centre in Europe.
XYZ Reality products: Holosite and Atom
XYZ’s core product is HoloSite which enables construction professionals to view and build accurately from 3D design models. It combines a cloud platform, AR headsets and propriety software. Holosite has been described as “the world’s first engineering grade augmented reality device”. It allows construction workers to view building information models onsite to 5 millimetre accuracy – eliminating inefficiencies caused when buildings are designed in 3D and then converted into 2D drawings.
The Atom is a powerful, custom-built engineering tool combining a construction safety headset, augmented reality displays and in-built computing power.
The company was co-founded by Irish-born career construction professional David Mitchell, now CEO. He was supported by COO Umar Ahmed, a business process specialist with experience at Shell and Microsoft, and visual technology chief Murray Hendriksen.
Overcoming the BIM to 2D divide
Mitchell says conversion from BIM to 2D creates significant inefficiencies with up to 80% of construction works being ‘out-of-tolerance’. This results in 7-11% of project costs being wasted. HoloSite solves this by improving the feedback loop between site and design by 92% as construction workers are now able to make real-time informed decisions in the field.
“2D is an unnatural language for humans; we see everything in 3D, yet tradespeople are being asked to interpret 2D drawings, conceptualise the 3D asset and then build the asset on-site to within construction “tolerances”. Works are currently validated after the fact through laser scanning. 80% of the time the construction fails to meet acceptable tolerances. With HoloSite, we can prevent errors happening in the first place.”
The funding will enable the company to further improve the user experience by doubling the size of the technology team, and expand its development team across all verticals. It is also building its sales and marketing operation; Andy Hamer, once of CodeBook and Invicara, is a 2021 recruit. The company is planning to use some of its funding to develop its second generation headset. Mitchell says:
“The next phase is assisted reality, where our spatial computing technology will have the intelligence to automatically detect and report issues in the field. And ultimately, the goal is builders building from holograms.”
XYZ Reality: the EE perspective
The product name Holosite is immediately reminiscent of the branding of Microsoft’s Hololens, which, since its launch in 2016, has been the subject of various AEC-specific collaborations with Trimble (May 2015 post) and Bentley (November 2016 post) among others. Additional developments followed the launch of Hololens 2 (Bentley and Trimble launch new Hololens 2 products) in February 2019. While this may immediately suggest XYZ is working in the same category as Microsoft’s platform, the latter is a generic technology. XYZ’s is particularly focused on site working in the architecture, engineering and construction sector. Changing the name may also help avoid brand confusion among those with only a passing knowledge of the AR space.
Unrelated AEC products also include Holobuilder, a US/German platform utilising 360-degree photography, first covered in EE in July 2017 (Holobuilder launches 360 construction documentation solution), and recently acquired by FARO Technologies (FARO acquires Holobuilder, 7 June 2021).
XYZ’s hardhat-based technology is also similar to that developed a few years ago by Los Angeles-based Daqri (read BIM+ 2016 article). It competed with Microsoft’s Hololens, another heavily-backed startup, Magic Leap, plus Google Glass, and was extensively backed by investors. It raised $275m by 2017, but it faced some engineering and industry adoption challenges, and folded in September 2019 (read ENR‘s DAQRI is Closing Up Shop). Many would-be industry adopters baulked at paying anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 (depending on custom-built features) for each Smart Helmet unit. Its Smart Glasses, at $4995, were also not cheap enough to achieve high volume sales. Magic Leap also tumbled in investor’s affections; in 2020 backers were marking down the value of their by 93% on average (source: The Information). XYZ Reality will obviously be looking to learn from Daqri’s collapse and Magic Leap’s fall back.
PointFuse – meshing technology
Also at Digital Construction Week was Maidenhead, Berkshire, UK-based PointFuse, which offers an image-processing technology that helps users make efficient use of laser-scanned point clouds.
Laser-scans are typically captured in files that can be anything from 2GB to tens of gigabytes in size. Combining files to produce more accurate 3D imagery then multiplies the data challenge many times over. And, as the files may be in proprietary formats, special AEC software applications may be needed to process them. A high-powered computer with advanced image processing capabilities and high storage capacity may also be required.
The meshing difference
‘Meshing’ technology, such as that provided by Pointfuse, can make a huge difference. A single flat surface in a point cloud, for example, might be represented by 100s of thousands of data points. Meshing enables a much more efficient representation, capturing the surface edges while combining data points registered across its surface. A user’s view is then made up of a mesh of numerous geometric shapes that can be much more quickly assembled, viewed and explored. Such techniques can reduce files to 1/100th of their original point-cloud size – measured in MB rather than GB – and, with the mesh files being software-agnostic, can be viewed and shared via readily available applications.
For the onsite data user this means rapid access to data at acceptable levels of fidelity using applications on existing desktop and laptop machines, even via tablets or smartphone apps. Site internet connections are no longer clogged by time-consuming downloads, and there are significant savings in local file storage. This all adds up to less time spent data-wrangling on site.
And where meshes are used to check the accuracy of new structures or new installations of equipment against the original design models, these lightweight, software-agnostic meshes can be opened 70% faster in design tools. This accelerates as-built BIM checking processes. Once accuracy has been verified, the next stages of construction or installation can be expedited, potentially cutting hours, even days, from construction delivery programmes.
[Disclosure: I have provided consultancy services to XYZ Reality and PointFuse. I have also talked about both firms in an AEC Business podcast recently recorded with my AECTech.TV co-presenter Aarni Haiskanen.]
* On 8 July 2021, Nemetschek announced its participation in the series B financing round of Reconstruct, a US-based leader in remote quality control and progress tracking software powered by computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI). Reconstruct secured a total of around $17 million to develop remote quality control for construction and real estate, accelerating Reconstruct’s product roadmap and global expansion.