SKUR’s Adam Cohen on Increasing Productivity in Construction

Engineers and architects meticulously plan for every piece of a building. The built world, however, is not always created according to plan. The differences between built environments and plans can cost significant amounts of money, especially if the errors are not caught immediately. Adam Cohen, a venture capitalist turned construction technologist, has a solution. His software platform, SKUR, allows users to compare as-built conditions to design intent and catch relevant deviations before they impact dependencies. Simply upload your design file and the as-built point cloud to SKUR and SKUR will process the data to then produce reports of actionable insights.

Curious to learn more about SKUR, BuiltWorlds sat down with Adam Cohen to discuss his platform and insights into the built industry.

Adam, what spurred your move from being the principal in a venture capital firm to founding a construction technology company?

When I got into the venture capital business in the 90’s, I really took on my investment thesis from Clayton M. Christensen’s work, The Innovator’s Dilemma, which argues that every industry will be disrupted by technology. I’ve tried to stay with that thesis throughout my investment career. As I was looking for new challenges, I began looking at a lot of different industries where there were opportunities to disrupt the industry through technology.

Through a series of discussions with my friend Bill Ibbs, a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California in Berkeley, told me what was happening in construction. I guess more accurately, what wasn’t happening in construction: the incredibly inefficient market, the stall around productivity, and the continued issues with huge cost. It caught my attention because it met all the criteria for a challenge; it was just a natural opportunity.

I firmly believe industries are disrupted by outsiders. Sure, sometimes insiders know exactly what to do because they understand the constructs they’ve lived in throughout their careers. However, as an outsider, I bring a different skill set and a different set of experiences and expectations to the table.

What do you feel is the skill set that you bring to the construction industry that’s particularly good for disrupting it?

I think about what’s possible. I bring curiosity as to why this industry has not evolved in relation to other industries, at least from a productivity perspective. As a business person, I am always thinking about lean efficiency and where I can make a difference. I am always thinking, “what are the things firms can do to really change the efficiency at a higher level? Why are firms not more profitable? What is the cost to society?”

Being an outsider also releases me from having to fit into the norm. If you work in an industry over a long period of time, you know that industry inside and out. You know what can be done and what can’t be done given the construct of the world you live in. Since I come from the outside, I don’t have to ascribe to those norms in the construction industry. It gives me the opportunity to come at workflows from a different perspective.

In addition, because I come from a venture background, I have had the opportunity to work with amazing technologists over the years. Unlike some people who have spent their entire careers in construction, I believe that technology will solve industry issues.

Do you still feel like an outsider in this industry?

Not anymore. In some ways, I always will be an outsider because I am not trained as an engineer or an architect and I have never worked as a foreman on a job site. But I feel the construction industry’s challenges now resonate deep inside of me. I live in the reality of our customers. That is really important. I evolve our methods to solve customer problems.

You recently announced that Bechtel is your first enterprise partner. Can you tell me about any especially exciting work you have been doing with them?

I think that for Bechtel and for other large companies, one of the challenges they face is coordination, trying to make sure they coordinate all the aspects of a job. What enterprise customers are really interested in when it comes to SKUR is how we can help them better coordinate elements that are being fabricated in the field with the work environment. They want to reconcile elements with the job site before those elements arrive at a job site. SKUR is a way for Bechtel to manage the coordination process. We deliver a significant ROI in that process.

Can you tell me about your latest innovation, Assisted Alignment, which eliminates the need for Ground Control Points (GCPs) when aligning design and point-cloud models?

SKUR is all about ease of use. We wanted to have a tool to be able to better bring the point-cloud together with the design model. Applications that have been around for awhile require a lot of training to use efficiently. Our idea is give me a point-cloud, give me a design model, and I am going to give you insights about your built environment. We want to provide a product that will give actionable insights to the end user and at the same time is easy to use. Our audience is looking for is insight. They are looking for the information they need to be efficient. We give them actionable data quickly.

Do you have anything new to report about your autonomous lidar scanner, SKURBOT?

We are currently focused on software. What I will say about robotics and data acquisition is that efficient acquisition of data is a major hurdle for companies like SKUR. We keep a close eye on technology that can help us efficiently collect data even more efficiently. It’s still early days for robotics. Today there is no universal robot that works for every scenario.

As technology, what would be the dream technologies that would complement your platform?

I think you’re going to see a major revolution in technology in vision and that will play into analytics platforms like SKUR. The changes that are coming in the lidar market are very significant, particularly the changes coming out of the automotive industry. I am excited by flash lidar, which could decrease the cost of lidar scanners from a hundred thousand dollars to a couple hundred dollars. As the cost of data acquisition drops dramatically, more construction companies will be able to adopt technologies like SKUR.

What’s next for SKUR?

You’ll see more integration from our platform. 2018 will be a big year for integration, both at the software level and the hardware level. For instance, users will be able to directly take data from the SKUR platform into other design environments.

I am also really optimistic about the construction industry on the whole. I see a growing enthusiasm about technology and desire to adopt it. It’s a really exciting time to be involved in construction technology.