At the turn of the century, when most of the current crop of Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration technology vendors were just starting out, a common objection to the use of online systems was that users preferred paper – “It’s easier to gather round a drawing on a table and mark it up,” they would say. “You need to see the whole A0 drawing at full size to get the big picture.” Nonetheless, cloud-based, browser-accessed document and drawing collaboration rapidly became popular, particularly as it allowed comments and mark-ups to be shared rapidly across a frequently geographically dispersed, multi-disciplinary team.
But old habits die hard, and over the the years I have seen several organisations look to replicate the full-size drawing sharing and mark-up experience using technology:
- Around ten years, I saw an early Thales/Surrey University prototype of a “Collaborative Working Environment”, subsequently launched as the Cereno nuVa (see May 2009 post) – a product still going strong.
- In 2011, I looked at more immersive approaches to design collaboration at IdentityMine, and pondered about some of Microsoft’s early tabletop ‘Surface’ devices (later rebranded Microsoft Pixelsense – read this Wikipedia article).
- And in 2014, Newforma acquired SmartUse, a mobile solution for viewing, marking up, auto-linking and sharing project plans, which also operates on a large, 55-inch touch screen.
Interactive whiteboard and projector systems are, of course, now widely used in many education and business settings, but are not easily portable. So Dallas, Texas, US-based Rollout has come up with its own solution: PaperLight – a touch-enabled projection display that connects to your computer (via a HDMI cable) so you can view full-size drawings digitally. Users can add mark-ups can with their fingertips and share them instantly with fellow project team members.
The 37” (940mm) table-top device weighs about 20lbs (9kg) and features a projector (‘telescope’) housed at the top of a mast that folds down for easy transportation, while the touchscreen is made of a durable and resilient plastic. Images can also be projected onto walls up to 11 feet (3.5m) away. The product can be used with any software (“you could even watch a movie on your PaperLight™ device!” – though Rollout is also providing two complimentary Rollout drawing management software licenses for two projects), and is currently being sold at a recommended retail price of US$5000. Rollout is also about to launch a crowdfund campaign to fund the product’s expansion, co-founder Alejandro Jacobo told me.
Rollout: intelligent markups and social collaboration
Rollout’s core product is a cloud-based construction drawing management application that enables construction teams to access and manage drawings from any device, helping them share mark-ups, revisions, comments and updates. The company was cofounded in 2013 by Jacobo and former Gilbane and Structuretone construction manager turned entrepreneur Matthew Hinson, and won several pitch contests in 2014 to help fund the product’s development.
Free to small projects (with up to three users), it has a simple per-project approach to licensing, based on an agreed number of initial users (move the slider, see the price) who then get (within reason) an unlimited amount of drawing storage and all features of the software; further users can be added for US$5 per user / month per project. Enterprise agreements are also negotiable. As with the early days of SaaS collaboration, the major benefits being sold relate to savings on paper production and distribution.
While the the application appears almost solely focused on drawing management, and allows users to filter items (by user, time and date), to track changes (again by user, time and date) and to collaborate in real-time, a detailed reading of the website suggests it can be used to share common process documents (punchlists, RFIs, etc) and photographs, with “intelligent markups” helping to navigate through the system.
I was also pleased to see that Rollout is not reliant on email, but acts like a social media application, with users tagged when something needs their attention and able to contribute via a comment stream (I have welcomed similar Web 2.0-style efforts to deploy social approaches to collaboration in the past – for example, Australia’s ProjectCentre, since acquired by RIB, was doing this five years ago [post], and Envision employs a similar approach – see my January 2016 post, Envision expanding capabilities).