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Construction sites get connected

A new mobile information kiosk helps builders stay productive and safe
February 11, 2013

Construction sites are like complex beehives, full of workers, each with an important task to perform and the common goal of finishing the project. Unlike bees, however, construction workers aren’t naturally programmed to know what to do. They have to remain in constant contact with project managers to stay on track and on budget. Productivity researchers have observed that construction companies find it difficult to communicate in a timely manner because they don’t have the right technology.

This challenge prompted Janaka Ruwanpura, Canada Research Chair in Project Management Systems at the University of Calgary (U of C), and a pair of Ph.D. students to develop a project-management tool called i-Booth© and launch a company called i-Booth Inc. in 2009. Ranging from $18,000 to $30,000 per unit, the i-Booth© is a mobile information kiosk that helps project managers quickly and easily share information with their on-site workers. Although the unit isn’t set to launch until April 2013, Saskatoon-based Allan Construction recently bought the first one and an industrial contract for four units is set to close in March.

A 42-inch touch-screen gives workers instant access to instructions, plans, staff schedules, weather forecasts and safety tips — important information that would otherwise take time to share. An initial prototype was developed in 2006 and tested by Calgary-based CANA Management Ltd. The company reported a 10 percent increase in tool time use, a 17 percent increase in on-site productivity and an increase in worker satisfaction of more than 70 percent.

Ruwanpura, the new Vice-Provost (International) at the U of C, has worked with more than 10 industry partners on this project. During the construction boom in Alberta, the kiosk helped companies keep up with projects and manage a shortage of workers. Amid the current economic recovery, it is helping them do more with less. Enhancements to the kiosk continue, and the integration of handheld devices in the upcoming third generation will help expand the i-Booth© to other industry sectors, such as manufacturing and information technology.