BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

Innovative technology

The objective is to use sensors on drones to avoid the need for destructive testing during building facade inspections

Author: John Woodman

01 November 2019

Although elements of the survey process may well become automated before too long, we should not view this as the beginning of the end for building surveying as a career. Rather, it is the start of a new exciting chapter, because technology will enable us to improve our services, and develop new ones, while also encouraging increased productivity.

As a firm, Hollis has always strived to find ways of doing things better, continually seeking new ideas, technologies and working practices. This year we decided to take it a step further, when we appointed Tom Willcock as our surveying innovation partner: he has a wealth of experience in all kinds of proptech, and has opened our eyes to a range of possibilities.

Much of our work in innovation focuses on gathering and analysing the high-quality data that will enable us and our clients to make more informed decisions. As surveyors, we need the best possible information if we are to formulate comprehensive and accurate reports. To help us do so, we are now using or evaluating a range of technologies.

Drones for instance can be used to collect high-resolution imagery of external and internal building elements cost-effectively. They also reduce the need for people to work at height, and can access other places that are difficult for humans to reach due to physical constraints or the risks presented.

Thermal imaging cameras mounted on drones can be used to detect water ingress on roofs, while imagery from hyperspectral cameras is also now being used to determine differing strengths within a material. The objective is to use sensors on drones to avoid the need for destructive testing during building facade inspections, for instance.

In the medium term, drones will be able to survey large areas once drone operators are able to satisfy the Civil Aviation Authority of the systems' safety and the use of simultaneous localisation and mapping could even see robots and remotely operated vehicles being used in data acquisition.

Photogrammetry will enable highly detailed models of buildings to be generated, which will allow greater understanding of issues, better collaboration and problem-solving, and opportunities to simulate an asset in a future state.

Furthermore, by acquiring comprehensive data on a frequent basis, deterioration of an asset can be tracked over time, and this information can be used to derive bespoke maintenance schedules for buildings. Technology such as augmented reality and digital twins  – where a virtual replica of a property is created to help model the way people interact with it – also offer exciting new ways for clients to understand the state of their assets.

Beyond this, machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms offer further potential to revolutionise surveying. For example, although human operators would always be necessary at Hollis we are currently experimenting with artificial intelligence to count rusty roof bolts automatically flag panels that require replacement, and identify cut-edge corrosion on roof sheeting.

Proptech also enables data and imagery collected by whatever means to be live-streamed to colleagues or clients who aren't on site, so they can direct inspections and see the condition of buildings in real time. Such data visualisation allows for quicker, more informed and therefore better decision-making.

The world is changing rapidly and so too must our profession. Innovation and technology should be seen as an opportunity not to replace surveyors, but as a way to improve our services and enable us to focus on more value-adding opportunities to benefit our clients.

John Woodman is a senior partner at Hollis john.woodman@hollisglobal.com

Related competencies include: Inspection

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