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Where Construction Technology is Heading: A Venture Capitalist Offers Views

For this issue of our innovation-focused “Trailblazers” blog series, we spoke with Curtis Rodgers, principal at (venture capital firm) Brick & Mortar Ventures, to learn about his career to date and his views on innovation and digital transformation.

Dr. Burcin Kaplanoglu, executive director, innovation officer for Oracle Construction and Engineering, led the conversation.

BK: What’s your current role, and how has your career evolved since you started working in the industry?

CR: My primary role is Principal at (venture capital firm) Brick & Mortar Ventures. I work with a great team of limited partners, investors, and entrepreneurs who are passionate about revolutionizing the way we design, build, and maintain our environment.  

In addition, I contribute to The Society for Construction Solutions, the U.S Department of Energy’s Project Leadership Institute, the NASA 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, Uncharted Power, and FBR - formerly known as Fastbrick Robotics.

Early interest in technology and process improvement

I graduated in 2009 with a Master of Science in Industrial Technology from Texas State University. I worked for Kiewit Construction at Plum Point Power Plant, a self-perform $900 million coal-fired power plant in beautiful Osceola, Arkansas.  

My next project was on the DART Orange Line light rail expansion in Dallas, where I continued my rotations through the field, engineering, and project controls. After my first year in operations, I joined Kiewit’s Solutions Team for three years. We focused on new technology and process improvement across the company.

After Kiewit, I moved to San Francisco to join the PlanGrid team, which was a great experience, and I eventually joined McCarthy Construction as their first hire dedicated to new technology and process improvement.

One year into my work at McCarthy, I found myself struggling to maintain relationships with all of the construction entrepreneurs in the Bay Area, so I founded The Society for Construction Solutions (SCS) to connect everyone.

Through SCS, I met Darren Bechtel, who had founded Brick & Mortar Ventures and was looking for a first hire. I pitched Darren an idea before he asked me to join his company and learn venture investing.

BK: What’s your view of this state of innovation in the industry generally?

CR: We’re in a period of solution abundance. Technology has finally advanced to the point of addressing the unique challenges of construction.

It marks the first time in construction’s history that technology is a clear competitive advantage to delivering a project on time and on budget.

In the past, we were suffering from solution scarcity. We just didn’t have the solutions. Moving forward, we’ll see each market segment in construction seek vertical efficiency.

In some cases, we’ll see true vertical integration. We don’t see construction as an industry - we see construction as a common process among many industries.

BK: What do you see are the biggest challenges to innovation?  

CR: If you don't have the proper leadership, then you're going to struggle to realize any benefit from technology. In addition, everybody's competing for top talent. This means "the leadership challenge" is the biggest opportunity to secure a competitive advantage.   

BK: How do you think talent can foster a culture of innovation within their organization?

CR: Every organization is motivated to solve problems. It’s up to talented people to clearly articulate those problems and the order they need to be addressed. And it’s up to management to support the evolution of the business.

For example, if document control isn’t properly staffed, or if IT can’t take care of basic issues, then project teams aren’t going to care about some new technology because their more basic needs haven’t been met.

BK: What emerging technologies do you see representing the best opportunities in construction engineering?

Autonomous vehicles driving advancements in LIDAR and Radar

CR: Autonomous vehicles are going to be interesting. Solid-state LiDAR development is being supported by the autonomous vehicle programs that need cheaper hardware.

Solid-state LiDAR doesn’t have any moving parts and could be a major advancement for construction survey and construction robotics.

Safety and gait tracking

By monitoring a worker’s gait, I can determine if their posture exhibits an injury or intoxication. The challenge is in finding a suitable gait tracking technology.

Smart tools

Smart tools provide quality data without requiring humans to actively participate in the capture process. This solves a lot of problems with data integrity and unlocks the potential for AI, etc.

Communications: Beamforming antennas

Fundamental things like connectivity are going to change. Beamforming antennas make it possible to connect to the next generation of satellite communications with very little setup and maintenance.

BK: Which areas do you see the biggest impact for AI and machine learning, both short and long term?

CR: Currently, there are many examples of AI automating repetitive tasks. Construction has an abundance of relevant problems.

However, data still needs to be better organized and structured. Once this happens, we’re going to see some very interesting applications for AI.  

AI will increase the adaptability of construction team. Construction struggles with high exigency – the challenge of dealing with incomplete information in a high-pressure situation – and AI will be a fantastic tool to aid in decision making.

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Related posts:

Check out more innovative ideas emerging in construction and engineering in our “Navigating the Future of Projects” report from Oracle Industry Connect.

 

 

 

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