AvalonBay Community’s Experience With Next-Generation Site Documentation Technologies

Michael Feigin, Chief Construction Officer at AvalonBay Communities discussed his company’s experiences leveraging emerging technology for site documentation, especially for large and very complicated projects at AvalonBay.
By A. Vincent Vasquez
January 30, 2020

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Editor’s Note: This article is the first in the Construction Tech Talks series, highlighting technology trends and digital transformations from the perspective of industry leaders. Conducted by Vince Vasquez, founder and CEO at PrecisionStory, this valuable enterprise takes the form of both an audio interview with a forward-thinking, tech-savvy CEO and an accompanying article that seek to illustrate how to leverage complex technology via the exploration of successful use cases.

AvalonBay builds multifamily residential rentals. By having developers in-house, they typically finance, develop, manage, build, design-build and manage the projects themselves. Today, they own and manage approximately 300 communities nationwide.

Feigin says AvalonBay started with plain, old-fashioned photographic site documentation, using companies that would perform site walks about every month, take photos and geolocate them on a site plan. This allowed AvalonBay to look at exactly the same thing every month so that they could see how the project developed month-to-month.

But, obviously, that's a static solution. And for a company like AvalonBay that works nationally, developing a good national cost model for this approach based upon business models offered by companies providing this type of service wasn’t possible.

Then, AvalonBay took advantage of an opportunity in Florida to purchase a development from a local development company that already had a local contractor.

AvalonBay provided financing and when the project was over, it would become an AvalonBay Community asset—owned and managed by AvalonBay.

This project became a motivator for exploring emerging technologies for site documentation because the AvalonBay team had concerns around ensuring the construction was successful. But due to the nature and risk transfer of the deal, they couldn't really afford to have a heavy staff; it just didn't make financial sense to put another layer of cost on top of the project.

AvalonBay started out by having a single project manager travel to the jobsite from Boston every week to review the project with its local contractor and walk the jobsite.

But anything can happen in two weeks on a construction site, especially when critical components are going in, such as covering walls. Knowing what is behind walls is especially important, for instance, as AvalonBay has specific sound attenuation concerns in their buildings because noise is generally the biggest complaint received from people living in the buildings. Once covered, AvalonBay would have no way of knowing if all the work on the walls had been completed properly.

OnSiteIQ for Site Documentation

To address these concerns, AvalonBay started working OnSiteIQ. OnSiteIQ provides a next-generation, geolocating site-documenting service. Instead of photographs, clients receive a high-definition, 360-degree video of the jobsite.
OnSiteIQ’s model is to provide all the services for each client, acting as a one-stop shop. Their employees walk the same path onsite on each visit with HD 360-degree cameras on their hardhats. OnSiteIQ then uploads this documentation to the cloud and geolocates to the site plans, giving the AvalonBay team the ability to conduct a virtual walkthrough of the construction site.

This is akin to the project manager physically going to and walking the jobsite. The client can pick any starting point for the virtual walk through, and know where they are and the time of day, with the ability to zoom in or out as desired.

Now the AvalonBay project manager conducts virtual walkthroughs on a regular basis. The biggest value the service provides is peace of mind that the work is being completed correctly, while saving the cost of physical visits.

OpenSpace for Site Documentation

AvalonBay is also evaluating a competing product for site documenting that has a slightly different business model. Whereas OnSiteIQ provides a service-oriented one-stop-shop, OpenSpace inputs AvalonBay’s video footage either from cameras provided by OpenSpace or AvalonBay’s own cameras. OpenSpace then provides the finished project by geolocating the footage and mapping to site plans.

Leveraging AI for Schedule Evaluations

The next step is to leverage the site documentation to map against the project schedule. OnSiteIQ has begun sending sample reports to AvalonBay; artificial intelligence is applied against the video footage to evaluate whether a project is off schedule. Feigin shares that OnSiteIQ’s technology currently does a good job, but is not perfect; however, the expectation is that over time, the AI will only get better.

Leveraging AI for Safety Evaluations

AvalonBay is also working with OnSiteIQ to use AI to evaluate jobsite safety. OnSiteIQ was provided AvalonBay’s safety checklist during the first phase of the project, including issues like whether workers are wearing PPE and if fire extinguishers are installed in the correct locations. Feigin says OnSiteIQ is able to identify to a satisfying degree whether or not items on the safety checklist are being met.

Using AI to Verify if Work is Accordance with Plans and Specifications

Feigin shares that work is starting on the next phase, which he calls the “Holy Grail.” In this phase, the AI will inform the client whether work is being performed in accordance with plans and specifications.

For example, the AI would perform its own virtual walkthrough and indicate that all the flashing around a window is correct. Company personnel would not have to verify the work because the AI would do it for them.

For Feigin, this is where he thinks the future is heading. Ultimately, the objective is to increase efficiency on the jobsite—for instance, cutting down on the amount of busy work for superintendents and contractors. It should also reduce insurance rates, because this technology has the potential to reduce all construction and latent defects.

Feigin believes this will revolutionize the industry, but he acknowledges they are still a way off from that goal.

by A. Vincent Vasquez

Vince Vasquez has more than 30 years of experience in enterprise sales, marketing and engineering. Working with 20 industry leaders, he is the co-author of Precision Construction, which teaches the fundamentals of IoT with a focus on the construction industry. He is also the co-founder and CEO of PrecisionStory, which brings Precision Storytelling—a new and innovative approach to enterprise storytelling—to market. Vince has an MBA from Stanford University, an MS in Computer Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University and a BS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley. 

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