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Owners Using 360° Photos for Virtual Site Inspections

May 20, 2020 | Article, Construction, Document Existing Conditions, HoloBuilder

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many municipalities adopted virtual technology to carry out site inspections so projects could continue to progress. Video inspections were an initial jumping-off point, but going the extra mile with 360° photo capture technology has proven more effective in simplifying site inspections for owners without compromising outcomes.

How owners can streamline virtual inspections with technology

It’s clear that the use of video inspections is growing. It’s been adopted in places like Ohio, Nevada, Florida, Atlanta, and in several other states and regions. Most municipalities have kept things straightforward by using virtual meeting platforms like FaceTime, Skype, Microsoft Teams, or Google Duo and require the contractor to hold a phone or table to capture the video while one or more inspectors watch. Inspectors can instruct the contractor to move in closer, provide a different angle, or stop to take measurements.

There are some limitations, however. You need reliable Wi-Fi coverage and connectivity on the platform you’re using during the inspection. Construction Dive highlighted some other concerns in their recap of the International Code Council’s webinar citing the technological challenges for some inspectors and communication limitations about inspection requirements and scheduling. Recording the video and using it as a record of the inspection may pose a challenge for some, especially where paper and photo records were the standard.

As an alternative to video inspections, some municipalities are accepting photo documentation of site conditions from owners. 2D photos are being used in some cases, but a 360° photo provides better context and information for the inspectors. It’s possible to embed your 360° photos into your PDF inspection reports so everything is in one place and easy for an inspector to manage.

Using 360° photo capture to streamline inspections and follow-up inspection reports is a simple process that gives inspectors the information they need in a format they’re familiar with and comfortable with. The report can include the floor plan with hyperlinks to the 360° view. Colliers refers to it as “Google Street View for construction projects.”

The core components of “Street View for construction projects.”

The core components of “Street View for construction projects.

360° photo documentation – the new best practice?

Most of us are comfortable with virtual meetings and video site inspections are really just another version of that. It’s a way for the industry to get inspections completed and avoid a backlog and a long list of project delays. However, video documentation is highly dependent on contractors capturing every inch of the site, which can be difficult without a systematic approach. Captured videos need to then be presented to inspectors in a digestible, organized way which can be challenging in video format. And that’s where 360° photo documentation has an advantage.

Reality capture technology can be a transformative tool for site inspections. Not only can it help streamline the process for inspectors, but it could improve outcomes, increase the likelihood of a passed inspection for owners, and minimize rework post-inspection.

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Here’s how the new workflow for site inspections could look with 360° photo capture technology:

1. Pre-inspection workflow

Efforts before the inspection can focus on being efficient with your and the inspector’s time. It’s also about being proactive and resolving any potential issues before the inspection takes place.

  • Provide the inspector with a link to your floor plan so they can highlight areas they want to review during the inspection. With cloud-based solutions, it’s possible to give them access completely through a web browser allowing them to make notes and annotations directly into the floor plan without any apps or downloads before.
  • Inspector notes could become permanent elements to your floor plan and instantly uploaded to working files for your team to review.
  • An inspector could request photos for specific areas on the floor plan. With a tool like the JobWalk Planner in HoloBuilder, you can pre-plan locations at which 360° photos should be captured by your contractor for the inspection. After the 360° photos have been taken (and, if desired, videos have been embedded) you can send the inspector the updated URL.

  • With access to both the floor plan and photos, an inspector gets an overview of existing conditions, can point out any obvious issues or deficiencies, and further highlight areas they want to review during the inspection. This can all happen digitally.
  • Your team has time to resolve any issues prior to the inspection. New photos can be uploaded to document progress for the inspector.

2. During inspection

While some projects and conditions will always require on-site inspections, what we’re learning about modified inspections is that it can reduce the need for them down the road. Here’s how:

  • Technology is available for live-streamed 360° virtual inspection that the inspector can control. At HoloBuilder we call this 360 SiteStream. After you’ve set up a 360° live stream at a certain location on-site, inspectors would be able to rotate and control the view of the camera to view different areas for the inspection. With camera locations highlighted on the floor plan in HoloBuilder, an inspector can simply click on the location and view the site conditions.
  • Your contractor can also continue to use virtual meeting apps to capture video for the purpose of inspections. If you attach the video file to your 360° photos that you captured pre-inspection, it can be made easily accessible and interactive for the inspector via a web browser should they want to view it again.
  • Taking notes onsite can happen digitally and within the context of the floor plan. Either your contractor or inspector could add notes from a phone or tablet as well as capture new 360° photos if required. It’s possible, with an app like the JobWalk App, to do everything digitally and make it immediately accessible in your existing workflow. While an official report may be required, notes can be consolidated within the context of the floor plan for everyone to use — including the inspector to put together their report, speeding up the process of passing an inspection.
As shown in this photo from 2019, your contractor just needs a 360° camera linked to the JobWalk App for simple and fast capturing onsite.

As shown in this photo from 2019, your contractor just needs a 360° camera linked to the JobWalk App for simple and fast capturing onsite.

3. Post-inspection workflow

After an inspection, your focus is either on having your contractor carry out the necessary improvements or getting on with the next stage of the project. Either way, electronic records help make it all happen faster.

  • When inspection notes are digital and added to working plans, there is no delay waiting for a report from an inspector. They’re immediately available to act on, meaning post-inspection rework and regular operations can take place faster after a passed inspection.
  • Comments from the inspector can always be within the context of the existing site conditions. With everything connected to the floor plan, there is no question about which area or component the notes belong to.
  • Uploading new 360° photos to the floor plan or even attaching videos to the photos to show progress on deficiencies or issues can help eliminate the need for a second in-person inspection.
  • All photos, recorded videos and conversations, and annotations during the process can remain permanently within the job file. Inspectors, owners, contractors and the rest of your team can go back to reference them within the context of the job progress at that point. They’re also within the context of the site’s progress so you can see what happened on the job after each stage of the inspection process.

Balancing efficiency with regulations

Site inspections must be done in a way such that owners, contractors, municipalities, and the public are confident with the outcomes. While it may take time to adopt and adapt to these new practices using technology more broadly, the payoff in efficiency and reduced expenses is worthwhile.
Your contractor has instant access to an inspector’s notes, helping them to focus on what’s most important before and after the inspection. They also have permanent records of their communications with the inspector all within the context of the job progress. Photos and videos provide definitive proof of the conditions at the time should there be any disagreements or litigations.

Learn how a reality capture tool like HoloBuilder can streamline your workflow and create a reliable as-built record for future projects.

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