Bill Allen is CEO, and President of EvolveLAB, Disrupt Repeat, and On Point Scans. These firms synergistically help architects, engineers, and contractors optimize the built environment. He has over 14 years of experience managing technology for buildings in the AEC industry.
Allen has worked with the latest technology for the AEC industry for over a decade. He gives us an ear into his thoughts on why startups are poised to succeed in this field right now, how AI and machine learning can change the world of construction as we know it, and his advice for a young professional just getting started in the built technology field.
What do you think is the biggest opportunity open right now in the construction tech industry for startup companies?
The price of hardware and software is coming down substantially, so the entry level for startup companies is finally becoming more and more attainable. You don’t need a lot of capital or an investor, necessarily, to get started.
An excellent example of that is the BLK360 last scanner, for example. These scanners used to be $130 grand. Then they got down to $80 grand, and then the BLK came out for like $17,000. So the fact that small startup companies could actually start purchasing some of this hardware is making it more attainable for startup companies.
How can BIM and related technologies make AEC professionals more productive?
The way BIM can make AEC professionals more productive is by way of automation. With tools like Dynamo, you no longer have to wait for an add-in from Autodesk or from Revit, some third party vendor, to create something for you. We can build these tools ourselves, and with the advent of the Internet, of open source software and online forums, it substantially has accelerated the ability to automate techniques.
Now we not only have a way to build our own tools, but we also have the support and infrastructure to support that ideology of the tool-making concept.
What area of the market has been slower to adopt and why?
One hundred percent, architecture. Construction professionals get it, engineering professionals get it. Architects, by their very nature, are subjective human beings, so, in general, architecture companies make decisions based on their emotion and not as much on logic. The architecture industry, by and large, has been the slowest to adopt these technologies. The other thing, which is not necessarily their fault, is the financial element. They have lower fees than construction professionals; therefore they don’t have the resources or capital to invest in some of these technologies.
You no longer have to wait for some third-party vendor to create something for you. We can build these tools ourselves, and with the advent of the Internet, open source software and online forums, it substantially has accelerated the ability to automate techniques.
What most excites you about where the whole industry is going right now?
It’s unfortunate because it’s become a little too much of a buzzword or hyper information, but the idea of machine learning and AI in the context of building information management and modeling is absolutely insane. When you take the idea of data and building information models, and then you start driving that data, that’s pretty cool. But if you augment that with the concept of artificial intelligence or machine learning, where you can analyze thousands of options, and the computers learn which options are the best, and it goes through a rapid prototyping or algorithmic process of being able to optimize a building, the computer can really dial in the optimization of that building.
There’s going to be some really, really incredible solutions in that field that come out from different startup companies in the very near future.
What would you tell a student or a young person that thinks that they want to get into your field? What skills do they need to know?
I would tell a young professional to learn how to code. I am so jealous of people that can code and be able to have an idea and then essentially speak that concept into existence via Python or C-sharp, that is a superpower. Start with visual programming, some tool like Dynamo or Grasshopper, and then ease into Python and go into full-blown coding.
Let’s say that student is graduating in four years. How do you think the industry will look versus how it is now?
I hope we’ve made more progress than we have in the last four years. Unfortunately, our industry is slow to change, but I do think something that will be happening is the merging of multiple technologies. So if you take a tool like Google Voice, and then you overlay that into a tool like Project Fractal, and then you’re able to say, “Alexa, show me all of the options…” that’s incredible. We’re going to see this merging of technology where voice, AR, VR, BIM, scanning technologies, drone technologies, are fused into a singular solution.
I would also say, invest in yourself and don’t wait for someone to ask you. There are too many people in our industry waiting on management to give them some kind of career path. I would encourage people to be proactive and take more of an entrepreneurial mindset, taking an initiative to further yourself.