X-ray Vision

x-ray view of typical kitchen wall assembly with structure, plumbing, and electrical

Ever wished you could look inside of a wall? In theory, you could come close, if you just had access to the right construction photo. With the advent of cloud-based data storage, it should be possible to point a phone or tablet device at the assembly in question (wall, floor, ceiling, etc.) and call up photos that show its various stages of construction. Sort of like an X-ray machine that allows you to see through time as well as physical obstacles. What building owner wouldn't want this? If only it were that simple.

Project engineers and superintendents do take thousands of photos during the course of a construction project. But these photos aren't very useful unless they are tagged with a time, date, and precise physical location. Cataloging this data manually is a lot of work, so it is rarely done. There are some useful software tools that can simplify the documentation process. These range from simple apps (Jobsite, Geedra) to full project management suites (ViewPoint, Procore). There are even specialized vendors (MultiVista, VantagePoint) that will handle the process for you. However, in all cases the location information is either tied to a GPS location (limited accuracy) or a floor plan (requires manual input). And retrieving those photos requires navigating a set of folders or a 2d plan view; "point & view" is not an option.

Suppose it were possible to automatically and accurately tag each photo location on its way to a cloud-based interactive database. Until recently, such a capability was the realm of science fiction. However, the sensors embedded in the current crop of consumer tablet devices (compass, accelerometer, Bluetooth) make this possible. Development of tiny laser-scanners may further expand capabilities. How might such a system work? One possibility is to calculate a precise physical location for each photo by using a network of Bluetooth beacons embedded in the building.

To illustrate this concept, we created a model of a high-rise residential building, including a high degree of detail inside a typical kitchen wall: structure, plumbing, wiring, acoustic treatment and finish materials. It was a good opportunity to learn more about resilient channels and gypsum board installation, and an interesting excuse to make some 3d diagrams.

Next time you find yourself tapping back and forth on a sheet rock wall, take heart in knowing there is a better way. We just need our technology to catch up with our knuckles.

Sebastian Marticorena was an illustrator at Fat Pencil Studio from 2014-2016.