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Digitizing Construction

Saurabh Ladha’s start-up Doxel uses robotics, drones and artificial intelligence to monitor construction sites to help managers keep projects on time and on budget.


The construction sector is one of the largest in the world economy. According to a report by McKinsey Global Institute, about $10 trillion (Rs. 7,27,80,000 crores approximately) is spent on construction-related goods and services every year globally, equivalent to 13 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Yet for decades, 98 percent of large-scale construction projects are delivered, on average, 80 percent over budget and 20 months behind schedule.

But that may be about to change. Robotics, drones and artificial intelligence (AI) are coming to the rescue of construction managers with accurate real-time data to help them address small problems before they escalate into major issues which, all too often, lead to spiraling costs and delays.

Recently, The New York Times heralded the advent of drones in previously-uncharted territory for their success in measuring, inspecting and keeping large-scale commercial construction on target. “Ubiquitous as toys for the gadget-minded…drones have become indispensable tools in construction and real estate...On building sites, drones are saving money and time by providing digital images, maps and other files that can be shared in a matter of minutes,” states an August 2018 article published in The New York Times.

 

AI start-up Doxel
Doxel, a start-up based in Palo Alto, California, has already managed to boost productivity in the commercial construction sector with their unique artificial intelligence and computer-vision system. The company uses both tracked robots and aerial drones with high-definition cameras to monitor a construction site. The imaging data is then fed into its artificial intelligence algorithm. As a result, construction project managers receive real-time progress reports, allowing them to see the quality and progress of work as measured against the original plans and, most importantly, make those timely changes. 

“Without real-time visibility into quality and progress, managers simply can’t boost productivity. Our turnkey solution digitizes the physical world and compares actual performance to original schedule and budget plans. This is transformative for an entire capital project team. With Doxel’s system in place, project managers can react in minutes, not months,’” says Saurabh Ladha, chief executive officer and co-founder at Doxel, in an interview to Business Wire.

While it’s not yet time for construction managers to put aside all the hard hats, tape measures and clipboards traditionally used for visually inspecting a project, initial studies show great promise for Doxel’s construction management system. A recent Kaiser Permanente construction project in San Diego, for instance, used Doxel and came in 11 percent under budget and increased labor productivity by 38 percent.

 

How it started
In a an interview to VentureBeat, a U.S. technology website, Ladha recalled a childhood experience in India for the impetus to start his company. It was a case of a construction timeline gone wrong when his father, who worked in manufacturing, decided to start his own business and build a factory. Construction overruns nearly cost his family their home. Luckily, the family kept their home and Ladha’s work at his father’s factory reinforced the need for timely and accurate data in construction projects.

Ladha earned a bachelor’s degree from Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani and a Master of Science from Stanford University. He co-founded Doxel in 2016 and, two years later, he was named on Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 list in the Enterprise Technology category. In 2018, Ladha and Doxel co-founder Robin Singh have also procured a $4.5 million (Rs. 33 crores approximately) investment for their company, led by Andreessen Horowitz, with Alchemist Accelerator, Pear, SV Angel and Steelhead Ventures participating.

 

How it works
After a construction project shuts down for the night, Doxel deploys autonomous devices like drones, equipped with high-definition cameras and Lidar (Light Imaging Detection and Ranging) to scan the entire site. Capable of climbing stairs and navigating through challenging construction terrain, the robots follow prescheduled paths to capture images. These are uploaded to the cloud for processing by Doxel’s proprietary artificial intelligence software.

Doxel’s system is a milestone in computer-vision software, as it applies advanced laser-scanning technology to dimly-lit construction sites for three-dimensional visual data, accurate down to a factor of millimeters. Daily scans inspect the quality and quantity of material installed as well as actual cost and time spent as compared to original project specifications. This real-time data offers construction managers ultimate control in keeping their project on time and on budget.

 


Hillary Hoppock is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Orinda, California.