Dates in the school calendar: it’s not all about the end of term

School and facilities management– tips for the unsung heroes.

It’s all digital now isn’t it? Everything. You know, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual and Augmented Reality and the Internet of Things. Everything is done digitally now, right? Or maybe not…

The fact is that the memo about the digital revolution is still winding its way to most organisations including schools. For schools it might be something to do with the lack of money and competing priorities they have to deal with. Trying to do more with less isn’t easy.

In reality, smart technology isn’t quite ready to take over in schools just yet. A couple of recent conversations have underlined to me how, despite the advent of digital assistants, smart fridges and whatnot, some of the biggest gains – or savings – for school management teams can still be realised from the simplest of things.

One school business manager (SBM) told me:

A maintenance contract automatically renewed – even though we wanted to change provider – because we missed the notice-of-cancellation date. The supplier held us to the terms of the renewed contract, locking us in for another year of indifferent support at significant cost.’

I wasn’t surprised. It happens all the time. A finance manager at another school was tearing her hair out because the site team had:

‘started a service contract with a new provider without realising (or checking) that a previous contract was still running, resulting in increased costs’

(…not to mention some professional embarrassment).

How does this happen? It’s a familiar tale – too many plates spinning and not enough time. Add to this the fact that many SBMs, bursars and facilities managers, rely on a combination of desk diaries, white boards, personal email calendars (often not shared) and spread sheets to record this kind of information – assuming it’s recorded at all.

Of course, these tools can be highly effective, if you’re tracking small amounts of information, especially if the person doing the tracking has been doing it that way for years – ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ But, they do make it difficult to share and collaborate effectively and are completely dependent on a person remembering to regularly check for forthcoming significant dates – and knowing where to look. 

And what happens when a new SBM or bursar is appointed, or the incumbent is off sick? Who knows where to look then?

You’ve probably also heard of organisations that have needlessly incurred costs maintaining assets that should have been repaired or replaced under warranty or guarantee. The trouble is, keeping on top of all that information is simply too time consuming when there are so many other, more pressing tasks to take care of. So, almost inevitably mistakes or oversights creep in.

But it doesn’t have to be this way and some simple steps can avert the cost and embarrassment of missing key dates. Here’s a quick guide to getting on top of the important dates you want to track:

Contract Monitoring Contracts, insurances, leases and a host of other agreements can contain a variety of dates that need to be managed: 

  • Honeymoon or cooling-off periods
  • Discount or fixed-rate periods
  • Expiry dates
  • Notice of cancellation dates e.g. 30 days before expiry to avoid automatic renewal

Failure to monitor these dates effectively can lead to:

  • Important contracts lapsing unnoticed leaving your school exposed to significant risk – e.g. a lapsed maintenance contract or H&S inspection that doesn’t take place.
  • Being stuck with a supplier that you’ve decided is expensive, ineffective or incompetent.
  • Contracts renewing automatically without the opportunity to cancel, re-negotiate terms or identify an alternative supplier.
  • Higher than necessary costs because you missed the opportunity to test the market for better value.

Warranties & Guarantees

It’s the same with managing warranties and guarantees. As an asset owner, you don’t want to be – and shouldn’t be – paying for repairs or replacements if the assets in question are still under warranty or guarantee. But it’s easily done given the huge number of assets and associated paperwork to track.

So, to be clear, SBM’s, bursars and any other asset owners in a school, should be tracking:

  • Which assets have warranties/guarantees
  • The period of coverage
  • The cost of the warranty
  • The terms – what is included/excluded in the warranty/guarantee

This information should be easily accessible to anyone managing or working with those assets to ensure that the benefits of the warranty or guarantee are realised. It’s also worth remembering that warranties can often be extended, for a cost – especially if you can demonstrate that appropriate servicing has taken place (more record keeping!).

Top tips to cut your work and worry-load

Staying on top of all this information can be a chore, but as we’ve seen, the costs of failing to do so can be a lot worse. So, how can you simply and cost-effectively manage these important dates and details, and what key features should you look for?

  • Record your date-based information in a single location.
  • Make it accessible in a shared, collaborative environment so that multiple stakeholders can access it.
  • Upload key documents – scan them if necessary – so that they are easily accessible to authorised users.
  • Use software to help you by issuing timely reminders and alerts – even a basic calendar alert can suffice.
  • Manage events that have either a single date (e.g. an expiry date) or a duration associated with them.
  • Allow users to download a copy of relevant information to their own calendars.

The truth is that technology and software actually do have the power to transform your facilities and premises management role. But for now, getting these simple steps right will go a long way towards avoiding unnecessary expense and ensuring that you are in control of your school’s contracts.

How to Add Value to your Roof Inspection and Maintenance Services

With thanks to JS Photography for the drone imagery

The roof inspection and maintenance services sector is hugely competitive. Companies need to continually differentiate themselves whether through experience, knowledge, service or price (preferably avoiding a race to the bottom).

This blog looks at how you can help your roofing customers see what you see and enjoy faster, more collaborative working relationships. Sharing roof condition and maintenance information in a collaborative workspace under your brand can:

  • improve competitiveness
  • maintain or improve margins
  • lead to better customer service
  • maintain client engagement or ‘stickiness’.

A typical inspection process includes the following steps*:

  • A visual roof inspection – including an on-site, 50-point inspection regime.
  • Photographic, digital and/or written documentation of the roof’s condition.
  • Quotes for remedial work.
  • Repairs for defective issues.
  • Routine maintenance – as needed.

The inspection report is sent to the customer’s facility manager and the findings are reviewed in person or by call(s). However, a visually led collaborative workspace provides a better experience for your customer and you.

Better Customer Service & Higher Margins

A collaborative and transparent approach to working with roof inspection, condition and maintenance information involves ensuring it is:

  • accessible
  • comprehensive
  • easily understood, and
  • verifiable.

Presenting and managing information in a visually location based way helps achieve these outcomes. Markers can be added to each view described below to identify assets on the roof and the location and extent of any issues e.g. gutters that need cleaning or roofs needing more extensive repair or replacement.

Using a collaborative workspace with your facility manager customers provides the opportunity to communicate more effectively especially when discussing findings or recommendations. Customers can access it independently whenever they want, which is really useful for securing approvals.

Interactive Maps/Site or Roof Plans

Rather than rely purely on information in a report you can add it to an interactive map or plan based view of the roof.

In the screen shot below a building plan has markers on it showing the location of asset and defect/remedial works information. Each marker can be expanded to see more detail, for example, the extent of the roof area needing replacement (the yellow polygon) and the severity of the issue found.

Interactive Drone Aerial Imagery

The next level of visualization is to overlay aerial imagery taken by a drone. This gives you and your facility manager a real-world view of the roof inspection results.

In the screen shot below the same markers shown in the plan based view above are now located on an aerial image taken by a drone. As above the markers can be expanded to show more details and additional information associated with them such as documents or other images. Comments can be added by either yourself, as the service provider, or the facilities manager and emails triggered making this an interactive workspace.

360 Degree Imagery

Photographs and videos taken during a survey can be enhanced through the use of 360° photospheres. These create an environment similar to Google Street View making it possible to ‘walk’ the roof with your client from your desk no matter where you’re both located. You can walk your client through the inspection easily highlighting the results.

As well as providing a better visualisation of the roof – asset or maintenance information is overlaid onto the image. When combining this with the use of a map, plans and aerial images data can be viewed and managed in 2D as well as in 360°.

The 360° view on the right in the screen shot below can be panned and zoomed. You can walk the roof by jumping to connected camera positions identified by the camera icons.

Giving your clients access to this real-world view creates trust and shows transparency. They can share the information with colleagues and have greater confidence in what they’re seeing rather than being ‘led’ by a video.

The workspace also helps with recording communications and documents shared between yourself, as the service provider, and your client. Marked up asset data or recommendations for remedial work can be commented on online. This provides a much better experience for facility managers who can access this information on a self-service basis giving them a better customer experience.

This also improves the ‘stickiness’ of your engagement with customers as they can access the workspace via your own website keeping your brand in the forefront of their minds.

By providing this workspace capability under your own brand you’re explicitly differentiating your service.

Verification of Completed Works

As well as being a vital part of the initial review inspection and subsequent presentation of information this work space visualization can also be used to verify completed work. This transparency gives facilities managers confidence in the work that’s been done leading to quicker approvals and sign offs.

The Key Benefits of a Collaborative Workspace

  • There’s no need to physically access the roof to see the inspection’s findings in a realistic setting.
  • Better engagement and efficiency in how facilities managers and service providers can work together. 
  • A self-service approach for the facility manager provides greater transparency and more confidence in a report’s findings and recommendations.
  • Facilities managers can more easily take the right decision as to what remedial action should be performed and when it should be scheduled.
  • It’s easier for the facility manager to secure approval and budgets from other stakeholders such as senior management, directors, governors or trustees because they too can view and ‘walk’ the roof.

A better customer service leads to improved margins and a better likelihood of winning and retaining business.

To find out more…

Visit our website or contact us for an informal chat or demonstration to see how you can add additional value to your roofing services.


Using spreadsheets for CAFM

Does your buildings and estates data look something like this?

Or even like this…

Sometimes it can feel like you’re trying to peer through the shutters around your data to gain insights into your information.

If so you’re not alone. A survey of facilities managers reported that 67% of UK estates with 6-10 buildings and 55% with 11-100 buildings do not use a software solution to manage their data.

If you have relatively few buildings to manage from a compliance and maintenance perspective a spreadsheet is a good choice for low data volumes; minimal direct costs and simple reporting needs.

However, you might be using a spreadsheet by necessity because you think a software product will be too complex for your needs or will be too expensive. In this situation you might compromise by accepting limitations in terms of accessing and updating data by more than one person or the additional costs from having to re-purpose data for reporting needs.

Lifting the shutters on your data

What if you could take your spreadsheet data and simply, easily and cost-effectively manage it in a more visual and intuitive way on site and/or floor plans?

In the plan above asset data has been loaded from a spreadsheet and transformed onto a floor plan. This visualisation makes it much easier to see where assets are located and the contents of each room. The same principle applies to other types of information such as that for compliance purposes or reactive maintenance/service desk data or even contracts and leases.

Visualisation paints a picture of your data helping you immediately and visually see:

  • What assets or facilities data you have;
  • Where it’s located and,
  • Where relevant its status.

This valuable insight improves day-to-day administration and helps with prioritisation and reporting.

Different types of data can be intuitively represented using different icons. This provides you with unique at-a-glance understanding. To the left the top two markers represent gas connection points; a blue marker in the middle represents a water connection and the two red markers are outstanding defects which have been reported. These change colour as they progress through different stages to completion so you can immediately see which ones haven’t been dealt with and which ones are in progress.

From Bird’s Eye to 360 degree Views

You now have an intuitive ‘bird’s eye’ view of your data. Why not take it a step further and manage it in a 360 degree room based view as well as on a plan as shown in the video below?

Using these features it becomes much easier for you to find, understand and update data. With plan based views and 360 degree views communication and collaboration between staff and stakeholders is made significantly easier in the office and on-site.

Technological developments such as these make it an exciting time to be looking after buildings and estates!

New software technology to help facilities managers

Easy and Intuitive FM
Making FM easier by working smarter

Site and facilities managers face continual challenges maintaining and managing buildings, estates and assets. Typical core tasks focus on:

  • Inspections and compliance
  • Proactive and reactive maintenance processes
  • Asset management
  • Meeting audit requirements

These core tasks fit alongside other competing demands for staff time and resources.

One way to ease the pressure of managing these tasks is through the use of new technology. This can help to make data and information much more accessible and easily understood. In turn, this helps reduce your workload and enables you to remain focused on what’s important.

Let the technology help you – seeing is believing

Rather than display data in a heavily screen-based, text-focused way, facilities managers can now use maps, site and floor plans, 360° photospheres and augmented reality (AR). For the first time this puts leading-edge visualisation into your hands without you needing specialist knowledge or expensive equipment.

Using photospheres leads to more efficient and easier management of buildings, estates and assets. You’ll be familiar with photospheres as the visualisation behind services such as Google Street View. It seemed logical to bring this type of capability to facilities managers too – for inside and outside use.

Working in a 2D and 360° world

Adding data to plan-based views means you’ll have a high-level overall perspective of your assets and facilities data. Integrating this data into photospheres delivers intuitive understanding and visual comprehension about the data in a room or space in a way that simple photographs cannot achieve.

 Photospheres and integrated floor plans in FM
Integrated photospheres and floor plans in FM

In addition, by connecting 360° photospheres you can ‘walk’ the estate or building. This is ideal if you manage large estates or buildings which are spread out over an extensive area, and reduces or eliminates the time and cost in making personal site visits while improving the communication between on-site and office-based staff.


Floor plans integrated with photospheres for FM
Combined 2D and 360° views of assets and facilities requests

Imagine trying to get the buy-in from other managers, directors or stakeholders for new maintenance or refurbishment activities. Rather than simply presenting reports and photographs, you could walk them through key areas of the estate. They can see for themselves the scale of the issues you’re presenting.

The cloud-based photosphere technology also means your site teams can provide a better service to others. For example, it becomes much easier for users to report maintenance issues or facilities requests.

Photospheres and Roof Surveys
Photospheres and Roof Surveys

Photospheres also provide benefits when used for external views. For example, they provide a perfect way to visualise roofing issues and to virtually ‘walk’ a roof.

Increasing stakeholder engagement

You will also have a much better way of viewing and sharing information with colleagues than has been the case in the past. Equally, surveyors can provide you with an interactive view of their findings which increases your or your governors’ buy-in to recommendations that are being made for repairs or refurbishments. This is invaluable for explaining and communicating problems or issues and validating what was on site.

Augmented Reality in FM
Augmented Reality for FM

With AR, you’re able to take the benefits offered by photospheres to the next level. You can hold up a smartphone or tablet and pan around a space, meaning you can see asset or facilities information displayed in its correct real-world location. For example, information about a broken window would be overlaid on the window.

Better collaborative working drives efficiencies

Taking this capability a step further and augmenting data onto the photospheres as well means that off-site colleagues can also see the scene. This greatly improves collaborative working and means remote staff can assist with issues or questions. A contractor could verify easily and quickly lighting fittings, for example, and see whether there are any access issues which again a simple photograph may not show.

Software that cost-effectively adds value and saves time is a win-win situation for those of you who are familiar with having to wear multiple hats while working with on-site and off-site teams of contractors.

Read more about the benefits AltoSites provides on our product page.

BIM Photospheres and Augmented Reality for Facilities Management

Visual data management using photospheres

In a previous post we described progress on our joint R&D project with the University of Bristol after six months.

The purpose of the project is to provide the education sector (schools, MATs etc.) and the commercial sector with access to affordable, leading edge, 360° technology to help maintain buildings, estates and assets.

The project has now successfully developed a 360° photosphere environment which school business managers, bursars, facilities managers and site teams can use to maintain their estates. This has been developed as a significant extension to Altuity’s AltoSites software which already uses maps, floor plans or site plans to provide a 2D perspective.

How does this tech benefit you?

By integrating a 2D view of the world via maps, floor plans and site plans with 360° photospheres maintenance and facilities staff now have a much better level of visualisation available to them.

Integrated photospheres and floor plans
Integrated photospheres and floor plans

Combining a 2D perspective with a 360° photosphere provides several benefits:

  1. A high level overall perspective of assets and facilities requests is provided via a plan based view. This data is also integrated into photospheres delivering intuitive understanding and visual comprehension about a location’s data.
  2. 360° photospheres can be connected together allowing you to ‘walk’ the estate or building. This is ideal for managing large estates or buildings which are spread out over an area such as a group of schools in a MAT. It reduces or eliminates the time and costs in making site visits.
  3. Using augmented reality (AR) enables a smartphone or tablet to be held up and panned around a space and the user will see asset or facilities information being displayed in its correct real world location. This provides real time, on site access to data in a visual environment.
  4. This AR capability can also be used off-site. The photospheres provide a means for a user in, for example, a central office to view a space in the same way that an on-site engineer is viewing it. This helps with communication and reduces the likelihood of mistakes or redundant on-site visits.
  5. This technology also makes it easier for users of a building, e.g. teachers in a school, to report issues or facilities requests enabling site teams to provide a better service to their stakeholders.

Photospheres and markers
Photospheres and markers

Photospheres also provide benefits when used for external views. For example, they provide a perfect way to visualise roofing issues and to virtually walk a roof. A facilities manager now has a much better way of viewing and sharing information with colleagues than has traditionally been the case. Equally surveyors can provide their clients with an interactive view of their findings which increases client buy-in to recommendations that are being made for repairs or refurbishments.

Photospheres and Roof Surveys
Photospheres and Roof Surveys

This level of internal and external visualisation benefits operations and longer term planning. For example, it makes the process of securing stakeholder buy-in to required works much easier because other directors, governors or trustees can more intuitively understand issues than might be the case with a typical report.

Augmented Reality – on and off site

Using meta-AR provides a better and more reliable user experience
Using meta-AR provides a better and more reliable user experience

Our approach to using augmented reality (AR) has been to ensure it’s reliable and integrated to the main AltoSites system. This ensures that while on site a user can augment their view of a space by overlaying information such as asset or facilities requests.

Off site access to an augmented view of a distant space or room is also possible. This means that when off site a smartphone or tablet can be used to pan and zoom around the photosphere and the user sees a view consistent with being on site. This can be invaluable for explaining and communicating problems or issues and validating what was on site.

During our discussions with business managers and facilities teams they’ve identified that as well as using the photospheres for operational asset and maintenance purposes they’re much better than photographs in providing stakeholders with an interactive visual perspective of a room or space.  Typical uses would be:

  • At school governor meetings to better visualise and provide a virtual experience of the condition of school buildings needing refurbishment or replacing;
  • To show new or refurbished facilities to help promote a school to prospective parents and students;
  • To promote a school’s facilities for use by external organisations to help generate income.

The P(hotosphere) Team!

Our thanks to the team members below for their active participation in the project and to the UK’s Innovation Agency (Innovate UK) for co-funding the R&D.

The R&D Team
The R&D Team

Read more about this project in the press

QA Magazine – “School’s out for Legacy Software” (page 26)

IE Today – “Manage School Premises Internationally with Altuity”

AECNext – “A step back from the cutting edge: AltoSites uses photospheres to bring FM Tech innovation to small facilities”

Innovate My School – “Visualise your school’s savings”

Innovate My School – “The whole school power of visualisation”

What’s next?

Well discussions are underway with the University of Bristol on our next project. Follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter to be the first to receive updates.

To find out how you can benefit from the use of photospheres and/or site plans and floor plans get in touch for a chat!

BIM, 3D Photospheres and AR R&D Project Update (2)

3D Photospheres
Altuity and the University of Bristol Democratizing BIM Project

In our previous post we described progress at the 3 month stage of our R&D project with the University of Bristol. This research project, which is co-funded by the UK Government Innovation Agency (Innovate UK), aims to democratise access to BIM within operations and maintenance by using 3D photorealistic environments and augmented reality.

Achieving this will provide the education sector (schools, MATs etc.) and the commercial sector with access to pragmatic, affordable and leading edge 3D technology to help maintain buildings, estates and assets which up until now has been unaffordable and/or required specialist skills.

Watch this short video (just over a minute long) to see the concepts explained below in action. It shows how you can:

  • capture 360º photospheres
  • calibrate the photospheres to floor plans within a browser (no CAD required)
  • mark up features of interest in the photosphere e.g. record a defect
  • access information in the office or on-site via augmented reality (AR)

After 6 months work we’re approaching the point where we’ll be making the software available to a limited number of early adopters for evaluation and feedback.

3D Photosphere project update
The R&D team reviews progress in Nov 2017

Capturing 3D Photospheres

Capturing a 3D photosphere is simple and cost effective which is why we’ve chosen to use this technology. However given that they’ll be used for asset and maintenance management purposes there’s a need for a best practice guide which we’ve now written. For example, there are two key areas to consider to get the most from the photospheres:

1. Distance and angle of the camera to the assets
Distance and camera angle are important considerations given the different sizes of assets that might need to be marked up in a photosphere. For example, there’s an optimum distance to visually recognise a fire alarm compared to a larger asset or feature such as a door or window.

Our testing showed that the optimal distance from asset to camera should be approximately 3m with an angle of 40º.

2. Room size and shape
The room size and shape determine how many photospheres are needed to get the required visual coverage of the space. A small rectangular or square shaped room will require fewer photospheres than a larger space such as a hall, gym or ‘L’ shaped space. With multiple photospheres in use they need to be linked together to facilitate virtual room walking as well as being able to virtually walk an entire building.

Calibrating Photospheres to 2D Floor Plans

While viewing and managing data related to assets or facilities requests in the photosphere is very beneficial it does not entirely replace the need for a 2D view in order to see it on, for example, a floor plan. Calibration is therefore required to integrate 3D photospheres to 2D floor plans.

The calibration process involves identifying the camera position on the 2D plan and then matching room features with the plan such as the room corners. Once the calibration has been completed markers can be positioned on the 2D plan and they appear in the right location in the 3D photosphere or alternatively added to the photosphere and then they’ll appear on the 2D plan.

Calibrating 3D photospheres and 2D floor plans
Calibrating 3D photospheres and 2D floor plans to provide a 3D and 2D immersive experience

Visual data management using photospheres
Visual data management using photospheres

The calibration process has been built into the software to make it quick and easy so that users can undertake this process themselves.


Photospheres and floor plans
Photospheres located on floor plan


Once calibrated data can be managed from both the floor plan and photosphere environments.


Delivering a Reliable Augmented Reality Experience

A reliable AR experience (AR) is essential in an operational environment. Although AR technology is advancing at a rapid pace we looked at what was required from the user perspective rather than purely from a technological one

This led us towards adopting a meta-AR approach. This involves using the photospheres on a mobile device with the photospheres automatically aligning themselves. We are then able to reliably overlay data onto the photosphere on-site rather than augmenting it via the camera view. The synchronisation of the photosphere and device is so good that it is often indistinguishable from the camera view as illustrated below.

Using meta-AR provides a better and more reliable user experience
Using meta-AR provides a better and more reliable user experience

Photospheres, Stakeholders and Income Generation

During our discussions with business managers and facilities teams they’ve identified that as well as using the photospheres for operational asset and maintenance purposes they’re much better than photographs in providing stakeholders with an interactive visual perspective of a room or space. Typical uses would be:

 At school governor meetings to better visualise and provide a virtual experience of the condition of school buildings needing refurbishment or replacing;
 To show new or refurbished facilities to help promote a school to prospective parents;
 To promote a school’s facilities for use by external organisations to help generate income.

They’ll be another final(!) update on the completion of the project in a couple of months’ time. At this point this functionality will be available in AltoSites.

Please check back regularly; complete the sign up form or use the contact us form to receive notifications of updates or to express interest in participating in our early adopter feedback programme. This gives you an opportunity to test and evaluate the technology for free in exchange for providing feedback and suggestions.

BIM, 3D Photospheres and AR R&D Project Update

In our previous post we announced the kick off of our R&D project with the University of Bristol. This research project, which is co-funded by the UK Government Innovation Agency (InnovateUK), aims to democratise access to BIM within operations and maintenance by using 3D photorealistic environments and augmented reality.

Achieving this will provide the education sector (schools and MATs etc.) and the commercial sector with access to pragmatic, affordable and leading edge technology to help maintain buildings and assets.

This post describes our progress so far with 5 months still to run.

Capturing 3D Photospheres

Our first activity was to visit several schools to collect a range of photospheres from rooms and spaces of differing sizes, shapes and lighting conditions.  We also gathered excellent ideas and feedback from school business managers on how the project could be used to assist with managing and maintaining school buildings and assets.

Collecting Photospheres
Fig 1 Collecting photospheres at The King’s School

From this work we’ve been able to assess the optimum number of photospheres needed in order to provide proper fields of view for an entire room which might not be a simple square or rectangular shape and also in many instances will have furniture or equipment obscuring the field of vision.

Importantly this process has also shown how quick, easy and cost-effective it is to collect the photospheres using a 3D camera with a connected smartphone. This is essential as we want our users to have the capability to do this work themselves without having to use external resources although this is a future service we’ll be providing for those that want it.

We’ve also shown that multiple, inter-connected photospheres will be required so that a user can fully explore a class room or office by virtually walking through it whether that’s a relatively small room or a larger space such as the assembly hall in figure 2.

Fig 2 Churchill Academy Assembly Hall photosphere

This is particularly important in order to provide the right level of coverage to ensure it’s possible to zoom into a feature or asset anywhere in the room e.g. a fire alarm or lighting switch.

This work also showed the need to assess the ability to read augmented reality markers in a room based on size, angle and distance from the smartphone’s camera. The results of these tests are currently being evaluated.

Integrating Photospheres and 2D Floor and Site Plans

Photospheres have been integrated into 2D plans within AltoSites. This means users can collect the photospheres and position them on a floor or site plan.


Photosphere marker integrated into a 2D floor plan
Fig 3 Photosphere marker integrated into a 2D floor plan

The extract below shows the ease of displaying a photosphere linked to a 2D plan.

With this integration in place we are now assessing how assets and maintenance/service request details located on the 2D plan can be augmented onto the photosphere for that room or space.

Stakeholder Engagement – Early project win!

During our discussions with business managers they’ve identified that as well as using the photospheres for operational asset and maintenance purposes they’re much better than photographs to provide stakeholders with an interactive visual perspective of a room or space.  Typical uses would be:

  • At school governor meetings to better visualise and provide a virtual experience of the condition of school buildings needing refurbishment or replacing.
  • To show new or refurbished facilities to help promote a school to prospective parents;
  • To promote the school’s facilities for use by external organisations to help generate income.

Given the interest in this we’re launching a service to provide:

  1. the capability for a school or organisation to take photospheres themselves (or we can do this as a service) and
  2. software which you can integrate into your website to display the photospheres

For more information on this new service please contact us.

If you’d like to receive notification of further project updates please register via the ‘Subscribe for email updates’ window, or provide your contact  details or simply check back in a couple of months’ time!

Democratising BIM through light weight on-site imaging

BIM, photospheres and augmented reality
Current 2D plan and map functionality extended to BIM, AR and photo-realism

In a previous post I described how we undertook a joint research project with the University of Bristol (UoB) to assess how various technologies, including Google Tango™, can help the education sector manage and maintain assets, buildings and estates. This has now led to a nine month R&D project with the UoB, co-funded by the UK Government Innovation Agency (InnovateUK).

This post is the first in a series of bi-monthly updates on our progress.

Why are we doing this R&D?

Currently the vast majority of education and smaller organisations managing buildings and assets do not use Building Information Modelling (BIM) in their day-to-day operations.  There are various reasons for this such as:

  • The need for specialised and expensive hardware/software, skills, expertise and software.
  • BIM data simply isn’t available because of the age of the buildings being maintained.
  • The complexity involved is off-putting to many.
  • Current BIM processes tend to be focused on design whereas our users’ interests are in the maintenance of assets and buildings.

This is why our strategy of ‘Bringing Simplicity from Complexity’ and applying this to asset and maintenance management is key to wider adoption. We achieve this simplicity by using a highly visual approach. For example, AltoSites our asset and maintenance software, uses maps and floor and site plans.

A class room showing augmented maintenance data
Prototype illustrating how augmented data can be overlaid onto a real world class room.

This project extends our existing mobile capability by offering users a more immersive experience – one that allows them to easily see and record data as illustrated to the left.


The Technology (Mobile, 3D Environments and Augmented Reality)

Using 2D plans, photospheres and augmented markers.
Using 2D plans, photospheres and augmented markers.

This R&D will bring a disruptive step change to mobile data collection and will also encourage wider adoption of BIM. Harnessing various technologies, combined with new software tools which are easy to use and affordable, will encourage widespread use within an organisation – the democratisation effect referred to in our project’s title. For example, this will help a building’s site maintenance staff and other stakeholders such as teaching staff in a school or university record and access information.

Our ambition is to leap frog existing state-of-the art mobile apps by providing suitably accurate onsite data capture and information access through the creation of interactive user environments that combine visually-realistic onsite imaging and BIM, asset and maintenance information. Innovations in augmented reality and mobile device innovations, such as the capture and display of 3D environments, allow us to explore how users can easily access and interact with combined digital and physical information.

What will it mean to you?

If you’re inspecting assets and buildings and need to record data and access information across the estate it’ll make your work easier. Augmented reality provides enhanced visualisation combined with locational context meaning you get to focus on the data that’s relevant to your position and you can also access other information e.g. from BIM, plans or internal reports.

This new software solution will lead to a step change in productivity. There will be improvements in operational efficiency such as staff utilization and productivity. No manual data collection nor re-keying of data will be required reducing inaccuracies, data redundancy and saving time. Better maintenance planning and works will lead to more productive and safer, fit-for-purpose workplace.

This R&D will also ensure that the solution is uniquely capable of being adopted by non-specialists. This means building users as well as site maintenance staff can use it. For example, school administration and teaching staff could report maintenance issues or make service requests. Putting this capability in the hands of front line staff improves overall quality and responsiveness and is consistent with the “uberisation” trend seen in many industries.

Want to participate or find out more?

We’re very interested in hearing from schools, colleges, universities and private sector organisations who’d like to participate in a short beta programme in October/November, 2017.  No technical experience necessary – simply an open mind and a willingness to provide feedback. To find out more contact us.

If you’d like to receive notification of further project updates please register via the ‘Subscribe for email updates’ window, or provide your contact  details or simply check back in a couple of months’ time!

University R&D Collaboration

We’re an SME with ambitious plans supported by on-going R&D in our software which helps managers responsible for maintaining built environment assets. We wanted to extend our R&D capability by collaborating with a university and maybe you’re an SME wondering if this might help your company – well here’s our experience so far.

Key Requirements

  • Undertake R&D while not compromising existing software development.
  • Connect to academics to take advantage of the expertise, experience and different perspectives they offer.
  • Provide an opportunity for a student to gain some useful work experience.
  • Deliver meaningful results to our business.

We initially considered Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme. However, this is suited to projects of 12 months or more and for our first foray into working with a university a shorter timescale was more appropriate. In addition this R&D project only required a period of about 3 months although it might then be extended.

The Work

We approached the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Bristol who explained the potential to work with a paid intern; supervised by the faculty, over a 3 month period. This was ideal from our perspective.

We jointly scoped an R&D project to investigate mobile localisation and visualisation techniques that could help, for example, facilities and school business managers, bursars and site teams responsible for looking after assets and buildings.

Harry Whiskard, an engineering student, expressed interest in the work and joined the project. Harry, supported by the Faculty, undertook proof-of-concept R&D into the use of:

  • Tango™ from Google
  • Photospheres
  • Image recognition.

Google Tango
Tango device

He then tested the outcomes at a school thanks to the support of Alan Neale, School Business Manager, at Churchill Academy and Sixth Form in North Somerset.

Photosphere at Churchill Academy
Photosphere of Design&Technology room at Churchill Academy and Sixth Form

The Result

Harry’s work was extremely valuable in helping to scope what was possible and in identifying the practical limitations of some of the technology.

Floor plan, photosphere augmented marker integration.
Prototype showing a floor plan linked to a photosphere of the gym at Churchill Academy accessible through a smartphone. Two simple markers have been augmented onto the real world view – note the use of perspective to indicate where the markers are in relation to the viewer.

Automatic visual recognition
Trialling automatic visual recognition between physical features and a visual image.

These outcomes have influenced the scope of a new R&D project which is due to start soon and which will see us working with the University of Bristol on a longer project.

As well as the direct outcomes from the R&D project there were other indirect benefits. Working with a university provides an opportunity to step outside the purely commercial world for a while and having open conversations at the university keeps us fresh and receptive to new ideas.

It was also good to offer a student the opportunity to develop their skills and to gain some practical experience which will hopefully help in the future. In Harry’s own words:

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with Altuity, it was a very rewarding experience. This project provided me with the opportunity to learn new skills such as software development which otherwise I would not have been able to experience in my degree. It also provided me with insight into the importance of research and how ideas can be developed in the commercial world.”

No matter what the size of your company if you need some assistance and access to wider knowledge then why not contact a university?

Explore what might be possible in terms of working together. There’s plenty of enthusiasm within universities to do this and properly managed it’ll be the classic ‘win-win’.

One final thought – if you do employ an intern do the right thing and pay them!

We’ll be posting an update shortly on the follow up R&D project Harry’s work helped set the scene for…

(Project Tango is a registered trademark of Google Inc.)