With eleven figure IPOs, billions of dollars of investment, and the rapid growth of technology jobs at traditional industry companies, people take for granted that understanding the implications of the industry’s digital transformation is a fundamental part of any strategic dialogue. However, when BuiltWorlds first officially launched in early 2014 as a blog on emerging technology in the built environment, it was still difficult to find senior executives who took the issue seriously, and entrepreneurs had to search for VCs interested in the sector. The BuiltWorlds Summit was launched to move the discussion from the purview of enthusiasts and misfits and into the mind space of serious discussion among top level players from across the ecosystem. Those hundred plus attendees who gathered that first year felt the excitement of the beginnings of a major shift in how the industry looked at the transformative potential of new ideas and new technology.
A Campfire for Like Minded People
When BuiltWorlds first began hosting meet ups in bleachers in its West Loop Chicago loft to discuss emerging technology and the future of the industry, conversations often were cast as curiosities for most of the industry. A May 2015 profile in Curbed illustrated some of the thinking around technology and the Built World at the time. BuiltWorlds was described as a “techy nephew” who presumably could explain things to the adults in the industry, or “campfire for like minded people.” Early exhibitions of emerging tech were “toy chests,” signaling that laser scanners, connected tools, robotics and wearables were more about entertainment than transformation. So, the idea of hosting an event that would discuss emerging tech in high level, strategic terms aimed at c-suite executives who may or may not have technology backgrounds was a risky bet. However, it paid off. The event drew together c-suite players from architecture, engineering, construction, tools & equipment, building materials, investment, services, and tech companies for three days of high level explorations of the real and serious potential for these “toys” to change the industry. Six years on, that changes is steadily but surely happening, and we can begin to extrapolate how significant change will be in the next six years. In order to help us with that extrapolation, let’s look back at some of the themes we explored in that very first Summit and the people who helped us learn.
1. We Met SAM: Our First Real Look at a Construction Robot
While today, we may trace more than 50 robotics companies aimed specifically at the Construction Industry and host a conference dedicated to the topic, in 2016, there were very few startups in the sector, and SAM was one of the most well known.
2. Caterpillar Introduced Us to the Concept of Strategic Investment as A Fundamental Enabler of Transformation
Caterpillar was probably the first company in the sector to reach out to us and teach us about the moves they were making to engage with Building and Infrastructure Technology Sector. Companies like peer-to-peer equipment rental, Yardclub were early players in the online rental and cloud-based equipment management business. Meantime, Cat also taught us about the application of AR/VR in training and maintenance.
3. Danielle Dy Buncio of VIATechnik Discussed the Potential of Gaming Technology and Artificial Intelligence to Improve the Way We Plan
While people were increasingly comfortable with Building Modeling by 2016, the idea of leveraging gaming engines to simulate construction activities and layering in artificial intelligence to chart the best approaches was a way of thinking very much in its infancy. Today, we track dozens of solutions in the industry that leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence.
4. Autodesk’s Stacy Scopano Pointed to BIM Accessible in the Field on Mobile Devices Tied to 3D Printers and the IoT of the Smart Jobsites
Once again, the idea of accessing building models in the field with any ease and the concept of 3D printing was out on the horizon. Today, models in the field are widely seen, and 3d printing startups are proliferating.
All of these and many other changes have taken place since we began our inquiries in 2014. At this year’s Summit, we’ll look deeper into where these technologies are today and what the next generation of emerging technology has in store for the industry in the years to come.
5. Roger Krulak of FullStack Modular Opens Our Eyes to the Greater Potential Of Modular
Before high flying modular companies like Katerra and Factory OS, Roger Krulak’s modular high rise in New York opened our eyes to the potential of “productizing building construction,” and leveraging technology to enable greater efficiency and a broader range of applications.
As we look to this year’s Summit, August 31-September 2nd, we will look deeper into the development of these technologies, their impact on the industry to date, and we will once again contemplate the future of the industry over the next decade, as these changes continue to take shape and as new changes emerge. We’ll look forward to catching up with those who have been there along the way as well as the many new leaders who have joined the discussion, a discussion which is now firmly central to the strategic considerations of leading industry players, technologists, and investors around the world.