- The Associated General Contractors of America announced the top three winners of its 2021 Innovation Award on Oct. 13, recognizing companies that are creating novel solutions to pressing industry challenges.
- The first-prize winner is Chicago-based contractor Pepper Construction, which created an augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) training program to help contractors train employees in safety procedures in an immersive, authentic yet safe way, according to an AGC release.
- Judges award prizes by grading the solutions against each other in terms of impact and ingenuity. Sarah Gallegos, director of the AGC's Building Division, said that in recent years, companies that lean toward robotics have had better chances of winning.
The award is broken up into first, second and third prizes. First place is a $7,000 reward, the second $3,500 and third $1,500. Below are the three winners from this year's contest:
Pepper Construction created an AR/VR training environment that sought to tackle two things: the boredom that often accompanies safety training, and the one-way conversations that they often entail. The program, developed with BIM modeling and point-cloud scans, also involves Unity Engine, a software mainly used to develop video games.
Pepper used its own data, such as its injury history, to help make the program more targeted and believable.
"To be a safer contractor, to be more productive, we need to leverage other tools that really help us accomplish those goals," said Jennifer Suerth, vice president of technical services at Pepper Construction.
Skiles Group, a general contracting and lean construction firm based in Richardson, Texas, won second place in the competition with its app, SmartSafety. Described as a "crisis management application" by Skiles Group COO Keyan Zandy in the video, the purpose is to make site-specific emergency response directives accessible at the touch of a button.
Zandy said that the crisis management pipeline was "pretty antiquated" and that the app would cut down on response times, making dealing with these threats easier and quicker. Zandy said that the app leverages smartphone and geofencing technology, almost like an Amber Alert, with everyone on the jobsite having the ability to hit the "alert" feature to sound the alarm.
Patriot, a contracting firm based in Dunkirk, Maryland, won third place for developing individualized containment units to safely accommodate acutely sick COVID-19 patients that can support any medical facility.
According to a Patriot press release, the units feature alarms for patients to call medical staff, emergency backup power, exhaust fans with HEPA filtering, fully self-conditioned heating and cooling and other medical and structural necessities. The unit can be used both indoors and outdoors.
The award was created in 2018 in the association's centennial year as a sort of symbol for where the AGC wanted to go in the future, Gallegos said.
"The idea was that we didn't want our centennial celebration to be a reflection on the past 100 years," Gallegos told Construction Dive. "We also want it to be a reflection of the next 100 years."
Outside of the advancements toward solving key issues in construction, the innovations may also help open doors for those who might not otherwise have considered working in the industry. Jeff Christianson, senior superintendent at contracting firm Exxel Pacific, Inc. and one of the judges for the award, said that he hoped these projects would reveal that there are good careers in construction, particularly in fields that outsiders might not immediately think about.
"I think these types of technologies really break down the barriers to entry and break down the prejudices that maybe exist about the construction industry, and that's about the type of people and the individuals that maybe have traditionally worked in construction," Christianson said