InSite: Getting Eyeballs on Site in a Remote World

Location services have captured a lot of attention in the last few years. Everyday, you are probably negotiating with your smartphone: “Do you want location services on (1) all the time, (2) only when this app is open, or (3) never?” The accuracy of geospatial data helps us get from place to place and refines our search results based on proximity. Advancements in geographic information systems (GIS) and the impending growth of 5G access is not only facilitating our lives. It is essential for visualizing and understanding the built environment from afar during COVID.

A global pandemic fueled by a highly contagious virus has hindered the way we work together, especially for industries that are place-based. Previously, we discussed the rise of ConTech and its impact on the construction industry. Today, we take a deep dive into a subset of ConTech, geospatial technologies. For decades, GIS and location services have helped the construction industry deliver infrastructure and building projects. Now, advancements in this technology are giving rise to new companies within the PropTech and CRETech spaces.

Leveraging Legacy Geospatial Tech for Construction’s Future

Founded in 1978, Trimble has been at the heart of the geospatial world for the construction industry. Their technologies range beyond GPS position locating and include laser detection and optics. From building a single high-rise to a master planned development, Trimble’s technology has laid the foundation for surveying efforts and accurate land planning for practitioners and policymakers. In June this year, Trimble partnered with Esri to bring location tracking, map viewing, and field inspection to handheld smart devices. While both of these companies have long standing reputations in the construction industry, they are being challenged to innovate as new start-ups enter the space.

In 2015, TraceAir set-up shop down the road from Trimble and has become a ConTech sweetheart. The company leverages GIS and drone technologies to get faster, cheaper, and more convenient information about construction sites. The information collected from site-wide drone flights is used to help construction planning and resolve schedule issues efficiently. The success of their technology has been solidified by a joint venture with Independent Construction Co. and investments by ENGEO, both notable companies in the construction industry.

These technologies are capturing real-time information for better decision making during the construction process. Project executives and investors, who can’t get to the construction site, are depending upon the image and analytic information from these ConTech companies to move projects forward. But, once these projects are constructed, it means there are new challenges for viewing properties from afar, especially during COVID.

Welcoming Tenants and Building Managers to a Virtual Space

When prospective occupants (whether renters or owners) are evaluating properties after construction, they want to be able to stand in the space, to experience how life will be when they are working and living in a new built environment. Since 2011, Matterport has been developing 3D, geospatial models of the built environment to help users find new properties, take inventory for insurance purposes, and even remodel spaces. Their forward looking technology has attracted users from all sectors to evaluate and market interior spaces, creating the largest library of 3D real-world place models– truly a new virtual reality. This has facilitated the rise of so many other property technology companies that link buyers and sellers through a two-sided online real estate marketplace.

As we move through the lifecycle of the built environment, we’ve seen a new generation of technology companies that go beyond the visual capture of the built environment. These companies are working to optimize building operations for enhancing the occupant experience and lowering life-cycle costs. That means that emerging technology is using geospatial information in a new way. Specifically, these companies are using the Internet of Things (IoT) to shake up this space. In effect, GIS and IoT are providing more information for models. Instead of relying on visual data, IoT is harnessing the power of networked sensors to track real time data within and around the built environment.

Embue is just one start-up, founded in 2015 in Boston, that has been saving tenants on operating costs by leveraging geospatial information. With connected thermostats, occupancy sensors, and leak detectors, residents and building managers alike can better monitor building conditions room by room to conserve energy and oversee occupant health. Similarly, RYSTA, founded in 2016 in Berlin, has also come into its own during COVID. The RYSTA platform depends on IoT sensors for indoor metrics like temperature, humidity, volatile organic compounds, brights, vibration, and noise to improve the tenant experience.

Taking Geospatial Technology to the Next Level

From construction through operations and maintenance, new technology companies are making it possible to operate remotely. And, in this new normal, that business value can keep employees, tenants, and industry practitioners safe. As older companies continue to innovate and start-ups continue to disrupt the space, it’s important that these technologies tie together. From early survey efforts through environmental sensors, there is still huge potential to integrate the segmented built environment process and industries to ensure that owners and building managers have all the information they need at their fingertips to make better decisions for occupants.

InfraShares recognizes the breadth and potential of this technology. Recently, we’ve partnered with Shadow Ventures to support start-ups in the PropTech space, including geospatial and censored technology start-ups. Crowdfunding is a unique way for users and potential customers to learn more about these technologies. And, as COVID has shifted our business practices, there is immense potential to see these start-ups and industry innovators find new opportunities to provide value for industry practitioners and end-users.