PCSG staff out in force at AEC Hackathon weekend workshop event

The second AEC Hackathon event, aimed at bringing together the worlds of software coding and the built environment, will this weekend be debating new technologies, harnessing data and exploring further digital ways of thinking about our industry. PCSG technical director Adrian Burgess and his BIM team will be among the 170 attending the sold out event and our chairman Mark Bew will be leading the BIM Level 3 challenge. The event encourages an informal pooling of expertise, an accessing of data sets and a positive social environment to collaboratively hack, or tackle building related problems. “It’s an important event, that will help drive further uptake of digital technology across our built environment,” says Adrian.

Innovate UK, the government backed body set up to support innovation in industry, is hosting Hackathon at its Future Cities Catapult headquarters, under the guidance of Built Environment Programme Team leader Simon Hart, a regular on the UK tech scene with a passion for BIM, the Internet of Things (IoT) and all things digital. He tells us more about the weekend’s event.

Q: What is the AEC Hackathon?

A: It’s a community oriented tech weekend where teams rapidly develop new ideas and concepts to solve AEC and Future City challenges set by the sponsors. The teams are given access to cutting edge technology, tools, hardware and software over an intensive weekend. The AEC Hackathon is unique in offering seminars from industry experts and mentoring to help the teams over the weekend. The line-up this year is better than you get at most AEC Conferences!

Q: What happens to the output from the Hackathon – how does it help take the industry forward?

A: Some of the projects developed at hackathons can be really ground-breaking, it’s the kind of innovation that you only get by intensively working with a group of experts in a free environment. We encourage the teams to consider the potential to develop ideas further, especially if they win one of the main challenges. They can do this via open source development though the AEC Hackathon community or take it a step further with commercial development. Innovate UK, the Future Cities Catapult, The KTN and the sponsors can help with this through funding, support and publicity.

Q: Is there still time to get involved in the Hackathon 3.3? When is the next one?

A: This year the tickets sold out in record time however sponsors can still get involved if they would like to contribute to the event. Hackathons of all kinds take place regularly across the UK in many industries but AEC is undergoing such a digital revolution that I expect to see many more in the next year. Hack Construct took place in Glasgow earlier this year and they will be helping mentor at the AEC Hackathon event too. I’m hoping we will be running AEC Hackathon this time next year as well – however let me get this one delivered first!

Q: Do you think that the UK built environment sector is investing enough to capitalise on the opportunities from the digital economy?

A: It’s mixed depending on the organisation. Mott MacDonald are one of the more forward thinking organisations who understand the staggering pace of development by digital SME’s. We are seeing AEC go from lagging behind technology development to adopting cutting edge development in just a few years but I think there is a considerable way to go for investment. The next few years will see the convergence of Future Cities, Built Environment and IoT around the BIM Level 3 programme. It is a critical time to ensure that the UK retains its world-class leadership and this hackathon is a great way to explore the next generation of technologies that will assist us.

Q: What role is Innovate UK playing to help the supply chain to better understand the opportunities?

A: Innovate UK is dedicated to supporting the UK’s SMEs through connecting and funding them. Our Infrastructure Systems team will be running funding competitions every six months with a key focus on SME support. Our sector is very fortunate that we are served by several Catapult Centres (Future Cites, Digital, High Value Manufacturing, Transport, Satellite Applications) who all provide extensive programmes for commercialisation of ideas. In particular they are fantastic at helping you access emerging technology through their events programmes.

Q: What do you see as the biggest barriers to the UK embracing BIM level 3 and a digital enabled future?

A: We have to ensure the AEC industry attracts the brightest talent from the digital sector. You enable that by presenting the industry as a progressive forward thinking sector. Once those skills are present we need to ensure the culture of organisations allows the continuous rapid pace of change that those individuals will bring.

Q: How can Innovate UK help built environment professions to gain a better understanding of the opportunities from digital technology?

A: The first place to start is to get engaged with Innovate UK, The KTN and The Catapults. There are hundreds of free events every month where you can find out the latest opportunities for support and funding.

Q: What do you see as the biggest impact that technology will have on construction in the next five years?

A: The biggest impact will be the improvements in productivity offered by access to data. Access to accurate data reduces waste by validating the design-intent. It is exactly what happened in automotive in the 1990’s where Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) gave the whole workforce access to the design and manufacturing data. When you eliminate the uncertainty of working from different plans, drawings and documents you improve the quality of delivery for the customer. This is what the long term goal of BIM is and BIM Level 3 is part of the next step on the journey.