Los Angeles-based construction and engineering firm AECOM has launched an interactive web-based tool that allows clients to hold virtual public meetings, a crucial component in the process of creating public projects such as town halls, stadiums and concert venues.
Available on computer or mobile device, the new program (shown in image above) allows AECOM clients to engage with stakeholders who cannot attend in-person meetings during consultation periods due to social distancing measures related to the coronavirus outbreak. The platform, which has been used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and several AECOM clients in the United Kingdom, allows owners to engage with the public about the impact and benefits of proposed projects without residents leaving their own homes.
"In the face of unprecedented challenges, it was critical that we create a seamless digital environment to visualize projects, meet virtually and bring communities together in partnership with our clients around the world,” said Kevin Carlson, AECOM’s global lead for digital transformation.
The platform enables a virtual reality experience that places a community member inside a virtual town hall meeting. Exploring the room allows for experiences including watching video, reading information panels, viewing maps and plans, listening to audio tracks, linking to outside websites, and providing comment and feedback.
"It's exactly like a real public meeting, but without the in-person element," Carlson said.
The tool allows for instant feedback so public reaction can be captured and saved for analysis and accurate reporting.
There is also a chat function so experts can remotely answer questions as visitors look around the materials, similar to what would take place during an in-person event. Click here for a demonstration of the tool.
With the exception of the plugin that supports live chat with the consulting team, the entire platform was created in-house by AECOM staff.
“We already use a number of digital tools during our community engagement sessions such as visualizations, sound demonstrations and interactive apps, so it makes complete sense to bring them together on a digital platform,” said Andy Thomas, AECOM’s head of visualization & VR in the Europe, Middle East and Africa regions.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company plans to continue rolling out new collaborative tools over the next few months, Carlson said.
Other construction and technology companies are devising unique ways to help worker and customers maintain social distancing. On Monday, safety software provider Smartvid.io released a new AI-based application that determines when workers on jobsites have not been practicing social distancing.