A new construction technology originally developed by Google[x], Google’s not-so-secret secret facility, will reportedly be able to shave 30 to 50 percent off construction costs and shorten project delivery time from inception to completion by 30 to 60 percent. This new technology has the potential to generate approximately $120 billion a year in revenue. Early development and a prototype for the project code-named “Genie” was initiated at Google[x] but further development of the project has been transferred to a new and separate company called Vannevar Technology, Inc. Google[x] is responsible for developing projects the company refers to as moonshots and includes projects like Google Glass, driverless cars and Project Loon, a method of providing balloon-powered Internet access to remote and rural areas.
An article last week by Globes, an Israeli business daily, revealed information on an internal report to Google’s management team describing the project as “a platform with online-based planning applications to help architects and engineers in the design process, especially for skyscrapers and large buildings. The platform includes planning tools of expert architects and engineers and advance analytics and simulation tools. Genie standardizes and automates the design and construction processes with unlimited design options, enabling an architect to preserve the building’s uniqueness in the urban environment.” The article goes on to state that the development team’s report claims that Genie is a “revolutionary technology for the construction of sustainable and environmentally-friendly buildings of a quality never before known. The technology was presented as something that will change the conservative global construction industry through a fundamental and revolutionary change in how buildings are designed, built, and maintained, saving trillions of dollars.”
So what exactly is Genie? My initial thought was that it could be a take on Building Information Modeling (BIM) that incorporates Augmented Reality (AR) although that really couldn’t be considered revolutionary since such technology already exists and is currently being utilized in the construction industry. I mentioned Augmented Reality partly because the word genie or jinn means “hidden from sight” in Arabic. It also seems a little reminiscent of Google SketchUp which as a 3D modeling software that incorporated Google Maps, Google 3D Warehouse and Google Earth but Google sold SketchUp last year to Trimble Navigation. Based on the fact that the report mentions the new platform to be suited for large buildings and skyscrapers in addition to focusing on sustainable and environmentally-friendly buildings it makes me think of a real-world, eco-friendly Sim City-like application that goes way beyond BIM. It could be something that incorporates BIM but also takes into account other factors when designing a building like site location, existing infrastructure, building density, climate, local availability of sustainable building materials, etc.
All of this of course is speculation so let’s take a look at what else we do know about Vannevar Technology, Inc. The company was registered in Delaware with an incorporation date of December 29, 2011. Filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission from June 2012 show that the company has raised over $2.2 million. Three Google employees are listed as being associated with the company, Eric “Astro” Teller is listed as a Director, Jennifer Carlile is listed as an Executive Office and Nicholas Chim is President and CEO according to the documents filed. Contact information for the company is listed as care of Strategic Law Partners, LLP in Los Angeles. The company’s website, vannevartech.com doesn’t provide much in the way of clues as to what they are all about. The website features the tagline “Reimagining building design for a more sustainable future”. Rolling over areas of the website reveals the phrases “by returning to first principles”, “at the speed of thought” and “because building are responsible for 40+% of our carbon emissions”. The only other link on their site is an invitation to “join us” so if you’re looking for a job you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IDEAbuilder, an interactive design, engineering and architecture company, claims that Vannevar is “a venture-backed startup founded by Google engineers that are developing an open cloud-based collaboration platform for building delivery.”
A quick search of social media site show that they have a Google+ page but with no real information about the company posted https://plus.google.com/109093108618225704182/. The company’s Twitter handle is @vannevartech. Their profile claims they are “preparing for awesomeness” and their profile picture is a drawing of a space elevator which is probably a tongue-in-cheek nod to another once-rumored but publicly denied Google[x] project. Most of their tweets focus on green and sustainable building and link to articles on things like wooden skyscrapers, large-scale modular and prefabricated building, 3D printing of building materials, and designing and planning with an eye on resiliency and climate change. The LinkedIn accounts for Chim and Carlile both list their current work experience as co-founder of a startup in San Francisco since June 2012. The company takes its name from Vannevar Bush, the founder of Raytheon and head of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II which was initially responsible for the Manhattan Project.
Regardless of what Genie ends up being if it can actually cut building costs, speed up construction times and reduce carbon emissions to the extent reported it will most likely be embraced by the construction industry. Initial response to the prototype was positive when shown to leading contractors, architects and engineers and more and more companies are turning to green and sustainable methods for design and construction. The green buildings market is projected to reach $1.2 trillion by 2025 so incorporating sustainability into any new technology is the smart way to go. Whether or not this new technology will revolutionize the industry remains to be seen but I’m sure a lot of folks in the industry are anxiously waiting and watching.