On-Body Video and Building Products

Live video feeds from construction job sites are fairly common now. Mounted on poles, they provide reasonable overviews of jobsites. The next step in "videolizing" construction may be the use of small cameras mounted on the bodies of the people working on a site.

An exhibitor at World of Concrete earlier this month showed such a system; a small video camera mounted on a hardhat transmitted signals to a netbook sized computer carried in a pouch on the person's back or hung from a tool belt. The result is a record of what the person saw (or should have seen) on the project. A different version of the same idea was featured recently in USA Today and is being tested by for use by law enforcement officers as a way to gather evidence and to document the performance of officers.

The following are speculations on how such systems may be used by building product manufacturers:

There is a natural use for video in project inspections. Many roofing warranties, for example, require the manufacturer to make a project inspection as a condition of the warranty. A high definition video may be able to capture more information about a project than could a still camera, including panoramic sweeps of the roof or a walk along the length of every joint.

This information could be useful to defend against a warranty claim, for example, by proving that the original installation had been modified. However, such extensive documentation could also backfire if a review of the video indicated a defect that the inspector should have noted but did not.

More, I wonder if a body camera provides a better record than would a tripod mounted (or even hand held) camera. Recording while walking could present a bouncing image that is harder to review than footage taken with a stationary camera.

Perhaps a better use is for training and quality control. Are your installers using the right techniques? Are they skipping steps? Checking via video could cost less than sending your tech manager onto each project. It could be especially useful for watching items of work that are not visible after subsequent construction is in place.

Will trades people be willing to wear the camera? Most trades people are professionals and take pride in their work. They might feel that the cameras show a lack of confidence at best and an invasion of privacy at worst.

Could on site video capability give your firm a promotable benefit? Would the architect, engineer, or owner like the ability to eavesdrop on the work while it is in progress? My guess is that the footage would be endlessly boring. It could also be a liability issue for design professionals if they miss catching an error that should have been obvious from the video.

Finally, there are many locations where it is difficult for inspections or supervision to take place, such as in a crawlspace or on top of a mast. Here, video could clearly be helpful, enabling the person on the spot to confer with an expert or colleague in the job trailer or other remote location.

While I am uncertain about the current generation of body mounted cameras, It seems pretty obvious that video in one form or another will become an essential part of the job site tool kit. As it is now, many of the people working on a construction site are already carrying telephones with photographic capability. Stay tuned for more developments.