Using 360-Degree Cameras to Boost Productivity

By taking reality capture to the next level, these cameras can speed up documentation and decision making.

Small, easy-to-use 360-degrees cameras have arrived. Equipped with multiple lenses, they take two or more photos at once and then automatically “stitch” them together. For interior spaces, they offer the best reality capture to date.

A few hundred bucks will buy you a consumer-level model. You’ll need to spend several thousand for a professional-level camera. Then you can capture spherical images (and in many cases, 4K video) of a room or jobsite with the tap of a button and share them with — even livestream them to — stakeholders so they can see exactly what you’re seeing without being there.

Some of the advantages over traditional photography are obvious. Instead of taking 10 photos to capture what’s happening, a foreman — or anyone on the team, for that matter — can take one 360-degree image, aka photosphere. Documentation becomes more thorough and easier to organize. (Snapping smartphone photos over the course of a project can produce hundreds of images, and organizing them, let alone sharing them, is tedious.) Taking daily 360-degree photos at walk-throughs creates an as-built record of the project.

Used in conjunction with construction management apps, these photos can speed decision making. By connecting the camera to a smartphone or tablet, someone at the jobsite can take a photosphere, link it to its location on the project plan and share it with other team members, who can view it and add annotations. Photospheres also allow project teams to identify mistakes faster, which saves time and money. 

Software offered by companies such as Holobuilder and PlanGrid lets contractors easily integrate 360-degree photos into the project management process.

With Holobuilder and its JobWalk app for Android and iOS, team members can use their mobile devices to view the virtual jobsite and add annotations and attachments. The TimeTravel app shows progress over time.

PlanGrid has partnered with EarthCam to use high definition imaging for tracking jobsite progress in great detail. PlanGrid lets teams share a complete project portfolio of drawings, photos, markups, punch lists and RFIs; annotate 360-degree photos; compare photos to blueprints; and pin issues to specific locations using their smartphones. Automatic updates and shared access to inspection notes makes tracking projects through each phase easier.

While smartphone cameras have been capable of stitching together 360-degree images for some time, 360-degree cameras take panoramic photography to the next level. No one should be surprised when drones start carrying them. Meanwhile, as contractors learn more about these cameras and how to incorporate them into the project management process, we may see their use increase. Companies may find that by making project documentation easier, enabling faster and more effective communication among stakeholders and perhaps even reducing site visits, the cameras pay for themselves. 

 

John Ross has written about industrial, automotive and consumer technologies for 17 years.

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