Each week, staff writer PAUL WOOD chats with a high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet University of Illinois computer-science Professor DEREK HOIEM, co-founder and CTO of Reconstruct, which uses new computer techniques to improve efficiency and reduce risk in construction.
What advances in imaging and computer vision make Reconstruct's technology possible?
Cameras are everywhere now — smartphones, tablets, time lapse, drones — so it's easy to get visual documentation of a job site. Organizing that visual data and making it meaningful is the hard part. ... At Reconstruct, we have further developed algorithms and interfaces to align and organize images, 3D models and building plans in space and time, making it easy to compare what was built to what was planned, to find the perfect photo to communicate safety concerns, or to explain changes to the plan. We also see many opportunities to take advantage of recent breakthroughs in object recognition to improve situational awareness of workers, vehicles, and equipment on job sites.
How has the company evolved?
A year ago, we had a prototype and were starting to use it with a few construction projects. Since then, we've hired six full-time employees, including five software developers and a vice president for product with 25 years of experience at Autodesk. We've completely redesigned our web-based platform, with the newest version just released in July, and are starting to scale up its use. Besides construction, started to work with bridge inspectors to document and analyze defects.
Advice for someone who's starting up?
A startup is like a marriage: it needs passion, commitment and lots of work. Make sure you're ready for that. Also, focus on building your team because it takes a wide range of talents and personalities to create a successful company.
Any mistakes you've learned from?
As a professional learner, I make and learn from mistakes every day. Fortunately, no mistakes that I can't learn from yet.
What's in the future for your company?
We aim to help keep every new building project on time and on budget, as well as to help monitor the health of aging infrastructure across the world. We're forming partnerships with drone operators, inspectors and other technology companies to make pervasive improvements to how we build and inspect.
Have you talked with any venture capitalists?
We have venture funding from Serra Ventures, Illinois Ventures, Grand Angels and Harbor Street. We are also in talks with several others for an upcoming round.
Do you have any patents?
We have a full patent and a provisional patent, and are considering filing others.
Our key patent protects our idea to register and view photos, 3-D point clouds, and building information models.
TECH TIDBITS ... from DEREK HOIEM
Do you have a favorite thing to follow on social media? Cheese, scotch and board games are my favorite social media.
Book or Kindle? I like books for reference material, and Kindle to read straight through. I'm reading "Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow.
Wearable electronics? I like to run with my smartphone and CardioTrainer.
Do you have an entrepreneur hero? The Founding Fathers — Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison — are among the most amazing and innovative people ever.