Two or three years ago, myself and a couple of other BIW colleagues were invited by contacts in Thales technology research and development team to go and see an experimental collaborative platform that it was developing in conjunction with people at Surrey University. That product, now branded nuVa, is now commercially available, with Reading, UK-based Cereno as the sole provider of this fully managed, hosted service.
The prototype that we saw what looked like a conventional drawing board surrounded by an array of cameras, but the product has now evolved considerably. At the core of the system is the nuVA huddle desk (no relation to Huddle software) – a large digital tablet around which colleagues can gather and share information with others gathered at similar devices in other locations (there is a desktop version, nuVA Innovator).
Essentially, the nuVa Collaborative Working Environment (CWE) system allows people to share information just as they might in a conventional meeting, by putting a document, photograph or drawing in the middle of the table and then discussing it and marking amendments, etc on the item itself, while related items can be arranged around the periphery of the shared space. The CWE incorporates a pen-type device for writing or sketching as well as a standard keyboard for typing, and its built-in audio and video means all conversation and outputs can be securely shared in real-time with colleagues using CWEs elsewhere (secure thanks to “Thales defence-grade encryption”).
On the face of it, this is a potential solution to the perennial gripe from some AEC designers about the inconvenience of doing design mark-ups on a conventional computer monitor (see Moaning architects). Cereno says it offers “a tax efficient lease option that eliminates the need for capital expenditure”, but will it be the cost-effective solution that so many in the architecture, engineering and construction space tend to be looking for? Getting every participant in the design process to lease similar equipment could significantly increase overheads across the fragmented multi-company project teams typical of construction projects (perhaps because of this the early marketing appears to be targeting the less cost-conscious oil and gas sectors).
It would be interesting if this technology could be integrated with some of the existing browser-based construction collaboration technologies currently employed on complex major projects, such as BIW’s Software-as-a-Service project control platform or those provided by various NCCTP members. Thus, architects and other designers might be able to hand-draw mark-ups and write comments, share them with other project participants who are more focused on incorporating the designers’ outputs into their day-to-day information flows, and help build up a complete and auditable information asset for use in future operation and maintenance.
(Update, 28 May 2009: nuVa now has its own website at www.mynuva.com. Thanks to Ben Pritchard.)