We have co-ventured with stakeholders from a well known construction company in New York in order to create the future of construction inspection. Together, we have developed a solution that enables inspectors to work from anywhere in the world.
The client had identified that inspections made out a sizable part of the project budget in constructions. In many cases, the inspectors are located far away from the construction site, meaning a significant amount of time and money is allocated to traveling. Our challenge was to create a solution to enable construction inspectors to work remotely.
We partnered up with stakeholders and co-founded the company Northsence. After undergoing our process from strategy to realisation we provided Northsence with a teleoperated robotic solution that enables inspectors in construction to perform their tasks from anywhere in the world, at any time.
In pursuing a project such as Northsence we understood that there were many stakeholders with different agendas. By applying an agile product development process we were able to map out the stakeholders anticipations, business objectives and technological constraints. Throughout the process, we applied a user-centric approach and incorporated a digital simulation of the robot to collect feedback from users, making sure the robot would live up to both external needs internal requirements.
We conducted several interviews with the target audience to identify their needs, goals and context in relation to performing inspection tasks. The study showed that the inspectors tasks can be divided into three main areas; communication, observation and inspection. We also found that inspectors mostly rely on visual data when performing inspections.
With the insight from the user study we created an low fidelity interface which included the critical features needed to perform an inspection. To investigate how to best control the robot using the interface, a controllable prototype was created using the game engine Unity. Usability tests were then performed with representatives from our target audience.
One of the key challenges identified in the environmental analysis was the construction environment, as it is constantly evolving and messy. To address this, we designed a compact and agile base platform, capable of safely maneuvering the construction sites. Users also highlighted the importance of capturing visual data, to allow this, we implemented an arm to hold the robots main camera. This provided the operator with more freedom in how they view the construction site, while maintaining the compact shape of the robot, as the arm can be folded into its’ body.
With insight from the user study and usability tests, we designed a simple and intuitive interface. We adapted the interface to enable the most critical tasks for the target users; communication, inspection and observation. To manage the mental resources needed to control the robot, we minimized the number of visible features and applied colors that ensured high readability. In this way, users are able to focus on the video feed and navigation of the robot.
Testing the technical feasibility of the idea was an important step in the development process. To do this, we built our own robot using Arduino and Raspberry Pi and created software to enable its control. Through this combination we were able to validate the technical solution, allowing users to control the robot from anywhere in the world, and evaluate different versions of the interface.
The robot is still under development and we are now in the process of constructing the physical prototype, aligning it with the fabricator, assembling the electronics and verifying the function. We expect that the robot will go into production by the end of 2023. We’re very excited to see what the future holds for Northsence!
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