Digital photos are great for tracking construction sites, but hundreds or even thousands of photos are needed for a comprehensive record, which makes organising and sharing them a tedious process. A comprehensive record of photos is also time consuming to maintain.
According to Christian Claus, vice president of product management at construction software firm HoloBuilder, storing digital photos in a standard folder structure presents some challenges.
“You could today take a whole lot of pictures with your smart phone, and put them in a folder structure,” Claus said. “One of the project name folders would go to months, and then one of the months would go into a folder that has all the dates, and then you would end at the folder which has a whole lot of single pictures in it, which is very messy.”
That approach is no longer necessary now that 360° cameras have become both usable and affordable. It’s now possible to capture an entire room in one single 360° picture, resulting in a vast reduction of photos needed and a more thoroughly documented site. Users can also easily share those photos with all stakeholders, and organise them for easy retrieval.
There are many options for cameras, and models with different feature sets, but Claus said a relatively inexpensive Ricoh Theta works fine. The camera is small – about the size of a smartphone – and provides live streaming so the images can be viewed on a smartphone or tablet in real time.
“There are basically two GoPro cameras in one of these 360° cameras, with two lenses on either side,” Claus said. “Both take an image at the same time, and the camera is smart enough to put those two images together to create a 360° spherical image out of them, something that you would see on Google Street View, for instance.”
Organisation of those photos can still be a problem, however, especially for firms with multiple and/or large projects, if they don’t have a better organisational method than folders.
“We have many general contractors that come to us, and they say, ‘Hey we love the idea of these 360° cameras, so we bought 30 of them, but now we have a lot of 360° images lying around but we don’t know what to do with them,’” Claus said.
That’s where software can make the process much more efficient and user friendly. Using an app for a smartphone or tablet, a general contractor, project manager, or foreman can pull up the floorplan for the project and connect the camera to the phone.
“You go out in the field and capture images using the app,” Claus said. “You zoom into the place where you are in the sheet, and you tap on the location that you’re currently at to locate yourself. At this moment, the camera takes a picture automatically.”
The entire process is extremely fast, taking about five seconds to complete.
The process enables the user to take photos of the entire site while linking them to their locations on the plan so photos can be called up by selecting a location. The app also records the time and date of the photos.
Contractors have mentioned two benefits in using 360° photos, Claus said.
“One is during the construction, being able to interfere faster, and make decisions quicker,” he said.
The general contractor, for example, can require a daily walk-through at the end of each work day. The photos are automatically shared with stakeholders, such as the project manager, who can review the day’s photo record and correct mistakes immediately.
In addition to easily creating a record of the day’s progress, daily photos can create the as-built record of the project.
“You would do this ongoingly and you create an as-built model, basically, of the entire construction process, and it’s size and duration,” Claus said. “This requires hardly any effort, given that if you are a foreman or a superintendent, you would walk the site anyway. So in this case you would just put a camera on your helmet, or hold a camera while you’re doing that,” he added.