GPS Brings Huge Potential to Construction

Eight million. That is the number of GPS (global-positioning system)/wireless devices that are used to manage fleet vehicles, trailers, construction equipment and mobile workers. This number comes from a new in-depth study from C.J. Driscoll & Associates.

What’s more, the market research firm suggests that by 2019, this market will expand to more than 14 million units and annual hardware and service revenues will grow to nearly $4.7 billion. Additionally, the use of commercial telematics solutions is expanding at a rate of 15-20 percent per year in the local service and delivery fleet market.

GWhat does all this growth mean for the construction industry? It is time to understand the impact of GPS—and perhaps more importantly, how contractors can leverage it to access untapped data now and in the future.

Understanding GPS

The term GPS has become almost ambiguous, as it serves different purposes. When many think of GPS, the portable devices found on the dashboard of a vehicle comes to mind. However, navigation is just the beginning for the construction industry.

To truly understand the impact of GPS in construction today and what is coming for GPS in the future requires a journey back to the basics.

GPS technology and LBS (location-based systems) are among the technologies often associated with telematics. Telematics is not necessarily a technology by itself, but rather a collection of technologies combined to solve a problem or ease a burden. In the construction industry, this includes being able to collect data about a vehicle or piece of equipment at the jobsite to make a real-time decision that will ultimately enhance safety and business processes, ultimately resulting in a better bottom line.

Telematics creates an environment where sensors onboard a vehicle collect data and relay that information to an outboard collection point via wireless technology, either by satellite or cellular networks. Looking back at the impetus of this technology, the technology was often only deployed by large companies and government organizations due to the fact that the cellular network was not sufficiently built out. However, with the ubiquitous nature of cellular communications today, and price and availability changing, the opportunities for such technology in construction is growing. The end result is saved time and money.

Narrowing in specifically on GPS, the technology can help construction companies manage equipment, vehicles, and trucks; enable tracking of assets; provide status updates on equipment; and even, in some cases, gather data about workers’ driving habits. The possibilities of GPS are endless—and as such, require each company to take a closer look at the benefits and use cases of the technology. The technology can also be used for surveying and positioning, which opens up a number of benefits specifically for construction.

Narrowing in on one specific example, Trimble recently announced it has been awarded a five-year IDIQ (indefinite delivery indefinite quantity) contract from the U.S. Navy to provide survey systems for the U.S. Marines Corps to support its topographic mission. According to Trimble, the contract is expected to generate approximately $5.8 million throughout its term.

Here is a look at the technology: Trimble will supply its Trimble M7 Anti-Spoofing GPS-S systems, Trimble S9 robotic total stations, TSC3 data controllers with Trimble Access field software, Trimble Business Center office software, and the Trimble MX2 mobile scanning system.

Taking a closer look at each, the Trimble M7-GPS-S was developed and designed based on U.S. Army Geospatial Center specifications and was selected as part of a separate U.S. Marine Corps contract awarded to Trimble in June 2012. The system is designed for military geodetic and construction survey applications and uses Trimble Access field software running on the Trimble TSC3 handheld data controller, which supports GPS and optical surveying.

The Trimble S9 robotic total station allows surveyors to combine scanning, imaging, and surveying into one solution, while the Trimble MX2 is a vehicle-mounted spatial imaging system that combines high-resolution laser scanning and precise positioning to collect geo-referenced point data from a mobile scanning platform.

The bottom line is the equipment will enable the U.S. military to collect, manage, and analyze information faster, reducing the time spent in hostile conditions.

What’s Coming for GPS?

GPS has certainly come a long way, and the opportunities in the future are endless. So where is GPS headed next? The answer is widespread and varied.

One area that could potentially have a big impact on jobsites in the future is indoor positioning. Consider the example of Redpoint Positioning, which now offers the Redpoint B3 Workforce Safety Badge, which uses an indoor GPS solution, allowing general contractors, industrial, commercial, and civil construction companies to enable zone-based hazard alerts for workers, generate workflow analytics, and obtain visibility into workforce activity. This particular system provides location information for both people and assets at the construction jobsite, which ultimately leads to heightened safety.

This is one area that could potentially see growth in the construction industry in the months ahead. IndustryARC forecasts RTLS (real-time locating systems) will reach $7 billion by 2020 for tracking the location of assets and people, both outdoors and indoors. RTLS is being adopted widely in healthcare and emerging in industries such as construction, retail, and oil and gas. The widespread adoption of RTLS had been limited by the high cost of gaining high-location accuracy, according to the organization.

As another case, GPS is also advancing and could soon integrate with AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality), taking the technology one step further. As one example, Topcon Positioning Group recently announced a collaboration with DAQRI, a provider of augmented reality. The companies will collaborate on wearable technology designed to change the way construction and survey professionals interface with the jobsite. The objective is to integrate DAQRI’s hardware and software solutions with Topcon positioning solutions, ultimately making workers on the jobsite safer and more productive through the use of augmented reality.

This follows last year’s news about a Trimble and Microsoft HoloLens partnership, which will improve quality, collaboration and efficiency in the design, construction and operation of buildings and structures. In this case, Microsoft has demonstrated how the integration of HoloLens with Trimble’s SketchUp 3D modeling software and the Trimble Connect collaboration platform could improve design and construction process in the future. However, perhaps, there is also an opportunity to extend these capabilities further and also integrate AR with GPS.

The potential for GPS in the construction industry is huge. While the technology enables equipment monitoring and data collection on the jobsite, it can also be used for indoor positioning and monitoring workers, ultimately improving jobsite safety. The ability to integrate AR with GPS could also be a trend to watch in the future.

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