Is That a Computer on Your Tool Belt?

March 15, 2003 · by DesignIntelligence

A professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says wearable computers could cut wasted time, rework and eliminate botched communications at the job site.

A professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says wearable computers could cut wasted time, rework and eliminate botched communications at the job site.

"Building design and construction has been called the world's largest industry," said George Elvin, a professor of architecture. "It is also one of the most inefficient. Estimates suggest that as much as 30 percent of project costs are wasted through poor management of the design-construction process, which represents more than $10 billion in the United States every year." Other applications of the technology could be in fields such as firefighting and emergency medical services, where conditions are unstable and information must be transferred quickly.

Elvin is leading efforts at Illinois to study the effects of using Tool Belt-mounted wireless-enabled portable computers and pen-based electronic tablets to complete integrated design-construction projects. The study was based on interviews with architects and contractors; construction-site observations; and data from controlled experiments at Illinois' Building Research Council. Three small structures were built using three different communication platforms: paper documents, a pen-based tablet computer, and a wearable computer with flat-panel display.

"Results indicated that tablet and wearable computers may significantly reduce rework, while productivity decreased slightly when tablet and wearable computers were used," Elvin said. With paper documents, for example, 4.15 percent of total project time was spent re-doing some aspect of the project, compared to 1.38 percent with the wearable computer. Elvin said communications using paper likely proved less efficient because the quality of paper documents faxed to job sites is often poor, whereas the use of tablets or wearable computers allows construction-team members to enlarge parts of documents to view greater detail. You can see more on this study and concept in a special DFC Focus on the Future.

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