Digital innovation offers us unparalleled choice when it comes to realizing client goals.
But finding the right approach is still as challenging as ever.
The modern built environment is increasingly defined by digital innovation. This includes sensor technologies, digital integration, and other tools gathered under the growing potential of BIM. However, when it comes to implementing practical solutions for clients in real-world environments, securing deliverable, fit-for-purpose innovation can be difficult.
But far from impossible.
Founding the Future
The pursuit of digital innovation lies at the heart of the teams at VIATechnik. Founded in 2012 by Danielle Dy Buncio and her husband Anton, the company supports its clients through a combination of VDC, BIM, VR, and AR technologies and – to date – has supported more than 2,000 projects across the globe, including projects with Tesla and Apple.
“I started my career as a civil engineer and graduated from Stanford,” says Dy Buncio. “I consider myself lucky in that regard as a lot of innovation and technology crept into the civil engineering program.”
After graduation, Dy Buncio found herself working in Silicon Valley, Sydney, Australia, and in the Chicago area, covering building and infrastructure. This learning was carried through to her later work with VIATechnik, which was founded under a commitment to using digital technologies to streamline client engagement and communication, and encourage digital transformation for a better built environment.
“We work across the industry – from design to construction, to operations, and across stakeholder groups,” she says. “That includes owners, real estate developers, construction firms, design firms, through to material fabricators and suppliers. This lets us take in the full breadth of the industry and see what’s working, what’s not, and help our clients pursue innovation and push the needle forward.”
As with all practitioners, sensor technology plays a key role in her daily practice.
“I think about it as the integration of the digital and the human,” she says. “We follow the idea that – as humans – we can use technology to augment our capabilities, and that fundamentally changes the way we interact with the built environment.”
For her work with VIATechnik, this means using VR and AR solutions to add to human sensory perception and processing power. The combination of bespoke software and headsets allows clients to enter an environment where VR offers a more effective solution space than conventional reality, supporting stakeholder engagement and fostering innovative approaches to problem-solving.
“It’s been interesting for me to see my clients experience technological augmentations and interact with the systems.,” she says. “For example, when I draw in the real world, I’m still drawing in 2D, on a flat piece of paper. But when I use my virtual reality headset, I’m able to draw in three dimensions. So, there’s this simple aspect of adding that technological layer on top of conventional sensing that allows me to do something that they’re not typically doing in the real world.”
For Dy Buncio, this combination of sensing and interacting with the built environment directly feeds into BIM best practices and allows for accurate, innovative project modeling. In many cases, this includes the capacity to feed in project data and ‘fast forward’ to see how a potential build will resolve in the coming months.
But forecasting is only one of the benefits available to adopters, especially when it comes to the integration of live sensor data to validate, predict, and respond to project demands.
For Dy Buncio and her team, sensor technologies are becoming an active part of their multi-strand process that helps drive change and improvements at all levels of business, especially when it comes to issue resolution.
“As we navigate through the world, we use our senses to understand what to do and how to make decisions,” says Dy Buncio. “In this case, technology provides this additional level of insight that expands those senses and allows our learning to tackle challenges. So, anything that can provide us with a new source of data becomes an interesting prospect.”
The ability to add live data sources and feeds from sensor technology allows for additional levels of depth and insight—a tempting proposition, even to the historically conservative building industry.
“Sometimes, it can be a hard sell. But I find that the construction industry, individuals, and companies within the sector are moving a mile a minute,” she says. “Construction projects are fast-paced. There’s a lot of complex moving parts, and it’s hard to slow down and start to understand what technology like sensors can do for you. But when you integrate those data sources, analyze what that data is telling us, and start viewing it in new ways… you’ve unlocked an enormous lot of opportunity.”
While capturing data may be easier than ever before, applying best practices to draw out insights is still a significant challenge.
Processes and Problem Solving
Squaring technology’s ability to unlock opportunity with our capacity to implement it correctly brings a wealth of challenges. The lure of digital solutions can result in practitioners putting the cart before the horse and focusing on the tool over the issue that it is meant to address.
“I like to approach it from a problem-solving perspective and keep clients rooted in the reality of today, with an eye towards the opportunities clients want to grasp.” Dy Buncio says. “This can end up with our team highlighting the ability for sensors, plus additional technologies, to unlock opportunities and solve problems. But we really need to start having those conversations, the right way, at all levels of the organization.”
This helps add value throughout the production lifecycle. For VIATechnik, this means empowering clients to make “high velocity, high quality decisions” through data insights.
But those decisions are hard to capture when it comes to Covid.
Integration and Covid
The disruption and threat of Covid continues to be a long-term hazard for the sector. But it has thrown up a rare opportunity to learn more about operating in demanding environments, and the nature of contemporary tech implementation.
“I think we’re all looking forward to this post-Covid environment. But one key takeaway for us is that we actually can conduct deployments much faster than we thought,” Dy Buncio says. “In some situations, cloud-based technology rolled out in a week instead of a year and a half. That showed us that we could move faster when there was an impetus to change.”
Ultimately, contemporary sensor tech allows teams to secure extensive data capture. The strategic deployment of sensors allows for creating feedback loops, as seen through recent efforts from Boston Dynamics and Trimble Inc.
However, the process does require a coordinated approach to integration. While acquiring information is one issue, understanding and actioning decisions is another question entirely.
“As creators of the built environment, we actually are tasked with predicting the future. But here and now is really where the insights and action come from,” says Dy Buncio. “It’s not necessarily one piece of technology we’re recommending to everybody, or one set of workflows. It’s the thought process, the framework, that we bring to our clients. We need to start thinking differently as we integrate our virtual design and construction experiences. Let’s make a new plan because better plans lead to better execution. And forthcoming change and challenges mean that we’re going to need them.”