Innovation in the AEC

Jun 12, 2017

If it flies, floats, or cruises the corridors of your local warehouse, you can get it in an autonomous variety – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m a pretty tech savvy guy but I’ll admit, I was way out of my league at the SPAR 3D Expo in Houston. In their own words, SPAR 3D has been the premier international event for the application of 3-D technology in our industry for close to two decades. Here are a few pieces of functional tech that caught my eye:

  • 3-D Capture. Initially I assumed this meant imaging, but I was oversimplifying. These “cameras” are capturing everything; images, ranges, GPS location, air pressure, elevation, and path of movement, stitching it all together in the cloud for real time review. These new hardware pieces come in any number of forms, from desktop cameras the size of a Bluetooth speaker to autonomous skid steer tractors, submarines, and various flying machines. There are vehicle mount systems that make Google Street View look like a Gameboy and even backpack models for you adventurous types where users can collect 3-D data down a trail from a mountain bike.
  • Modeling and rendering software. The level of data capture and detail is unbelievable. AEROmetrex, an Aussie company involved in cutting edge geospatial imaging, using the latest in aerial and ground photography, is showing a 4K rendering of the city of Philadelphia they developed along with Bentley Systems, Inc. for use in preparation for the Pope’s visit to the city. Imagine Google Maps 3-D, but in HD, full color, and zoom capabilities to the door knobs. Bentley Systems, Inc. was also showing off their new app, ContextCapture, that stitches together multiple simple photographs to create a 3-D model of whatever you’re working on in the field. Cloud processing allows all images to be viewed from a web browser. We were really impressed and it will be available near the end of this quarter.
  • Robots! The geek credentials were strong at this event. If it flies, floats, or cruises the corridors of your local warehouse, you can get it in an autonomous variety. We’ve all seen the multi-coptor “drones” you can get from your local hobby shop, but these guys have built vertical take-off and landing planes, a la the USMC Osprey, helicopters that can lift amazing payloads, and one by Trimble that I’m almost certain had stealth capabilities. Rolling versions included all terrain vehicles built on dirt bike platforms, agricultural models meant for scanning crop output and quality, and shop floor scanners that can dynamically update site maps for visitors and safety standards.

Overall, the show was unbelievable and at times, genuinely mind boggling. The level of innovation coming out of the AEC industry is unreal, particularly in the 3-D space. We enjoyed our stay in Houston and look forward to what magic these exhibitors come up with next.

Jay Thornton is Zweig Group’s director of media and eCommerce. He can be reached at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.