Combined mobile phones and cameras are commonplace but until now mobile phones have incorporated inferior quality cameras. Sony Ericsson has addressed this shortcoming by teaming up with the Sony Corporation's camera experts. The result is the Sony Ericsson S700, which has a 1.3 megapixel camera adequate for recording site progress. It has a swivel-type design so it can function in three ways. In camera mode, it looks and functions in the same way as a conventional digital camera with a 2.3 inch screen and a proper lens. When the lens cover is opened, the screen automatically goes into viewfinder mode. There is also a slot for a memory card so the images can be downloaded like a conventional digital camera. Although the lens has a fixed focal length, the S700 has an 8× digital zoom – although image quality will suffer if this is used. There is a five-way navigation key under the screen, so it can be used to browse menus, view messages and make calls from stored numbers. Swivelling the phone open reveals the keypad for texting, sending emails and direct dialling numbers. The phone also has Bluetooth and infrared connectivity. It isn't bulky or heavy either, at 107 mm long, 49 mm wide and 24 mm deep and a weight of 137 g. The only downside is that it won't hit the shops until later this year. The price is yet to be confirmed.
CCTV by email
Distributor Techland has introduced a security solution for remotely monitoring construction sites. Called the Ailocom Wireless Monitoring System, it consists of Bluetooth-enabled security cameras that send colour images wirelessly to an image server connected to the internet. If a camera detects any movement, a text message can be sent to the site manager's mobile phone or pager. An image of the possible intruder can also be sent to the site manager's email inbox. At night, the cameras automatically switch to infrared-illuminated black-and-white mode. The system can handle up to six cameras. Optional weatherproof housings, telephoto lenses and a plastic case are available. A two-camera system costs £2696.
Motorola is set to launch a combined mobile phone, PDA and email messenger later this year. Called the MPx and aimed squarely at the business sector, it features an array of gadgets, including WiFi capability, a 1.3 megapixel camera and infrared Bluetooth. It looks and acts like a conventional Motorola clamshell-type phone except for a dual hinge, which enables it to open in landscape mode as well, like a miniature laptop. This reveals a QWERTY keyboard and 2.8 inch touch-sensitive colour screen. The right side of the keyboard acts as a conventional dialling pad when the device is open in its phone mode, and there is also a navigational pad for controlling phone menus. The device runs Microsoft's Windows Mobile 2003 second edition software, so it has familiar applications including Outlook and Media Player. The product is 100 mm long, 61 mm wide and 24 mm deep, and weighs 174 g. Prices are yet to be announced and will depend on the type of mobile phone contract.
Simple SIM card manager
Smart card solutions provider Gemplus has launched a device that enables users to manage the contents of their mobile phone's SIM card on a PC. Called GemConnect MySIMeditor, it is a small SIM card reader that plugs into the PC with a USB connection. The user can view the contents of the SIM card, edit the address book and SMS messages and compose messages that can then be downloaded to the SIM for sending. Another useful feature is the ability to transfer Microsoft Outlook contacts onto the SIM card. Users can also manage their SIM card's security features on their PC. Perhaps the biggest advantage of the product is that if the phone is lost, users can simply download their stored information onto a new SIM. It costs £62.
Orange rival for O2 gadget
Orange subscribers who fancied rival O2's XDA 11 combined PDA and phone can now have their very own. In its Orange incarnation, it is known as the SPV M1000 and like the XDA 11 it runs Microsoft's Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Phone Edition. This includes Microsoft Pocket Word and Excel. Pdf and Powerpoint files can also be viewed on the device. It has a touch-sensitive colour screen with optional keyboards for those who prefer typing. The device incorporates a camera and can be synchronised with a PC using Bluetooth, infrared or a supplied cradle. The SPV M1000 has an Intel 400 MHz processor and 128 MB of RAM. There is an SD card slot to add extra memory if needed. Orange claims it has standby times of up to 160 hours, talktime of 3.5 hours or PDA running time of 12 hours. It is 130 mm high, 70 mm wide and 18 mm deep and retails for £375 with contract.
In touch on site
Nokia is set to release several products that could be useful to the construction industry. The first is the 5140 mobile phone, which has dust, knock and splash-resistant casing, making it ideal for use on site. The retail prices is £240 without a contract. It is also the first phone to have "push to talk" capability. Dependent on network operators making it available, this will enable people with compatible phones to use them as walkie-talkies and communicate immediately.
Additional functions can also be added simply by clipping on a special cover that contains the technology. One example of this is the radio frequency identity (RFID) kit. This reads "barcodes" – programmable tags attached to a products. The kit's phone is held a few centimetres away from the tag and reads the information it contains. For example a service engineer could touch the phone against a building services item such as a fan-coil unit. This would prompt the phone to download the units service history. It could also prompt a fault report page to come up that could then be sent by the phone back to the head office. Alternatively, the tags can be used to confirm delivery of items. The kit contains the RFID reader incorporated within the cover of the phone, 20 RFID tags and the application software.
Nokia has also announced the launch of advanced car kit, CK-7W, which connects to your mobile using a Bluetooth connection. Users don't even have to take their phone out of their bag and put it into a holder. It works with any Bluetooth-enabled phone.
It might not look very exciting, but when plugged into a laptop or PDA this card enables users to wirelessly surf the net and access corporate intranets at speeds up to 384kbps. Called Mobile Connect 3G/GPRS, it is the first business-orientated 3G product to be launched by one of the big four mobile phone providers. Vodaphone says 30% of its network offers 3G coverage including London and the M4 corridor plus other major cities including Liverpool, Belfast, Southampton and Birmingham. Outside these areas, the service automatically switches to the comparatively snail-like GPRS data network. The 3G data service will work in areas where WiFi doesn't, so it could prove genuinely useful to the construction industry with its high levels of mobility and increasing reliance on data. The card costs from £58.75, if bought in quantity, or £211.50 for individual purchases. The service costs from between £11.75 and £99.87 a month, depending on the size of data transfer required.
They say it's unsinkable
Digital cameras are incredibly handy to record project progress but are generally too fragile for the average construction site. Pentax could have provided a solution with the Optio 43WR. This camera is intended to be able to resist complete immersion in up to 1 m of water for up to half an hour, although Pentax point out that it is not designed for underwater use. It features a very respectable 4 megapixel resolution and 2.8× optical zoom with a range of 37 mm to 104 mm (equivalent to 35 mm format). It also has a 4× digital zoom, although this does degrade the image quality. The camera has all the usual features found in digital cameras including a built-in flash and 12 selectable automatic modes, including a movies mode, a landscape mode, night scenes, and even a fireworks mode. In keeping with the rest of the Optio range, the camera is compact and measures 81.5 mm wide, 76 mm high and 30.5 mm deep. It is supplied with a 16 MB SD-type memory card and weighs 208 g, complete with battery card. Pentax expect it to retail for £300.
Timber frame gets the whole picture
Consultec UK has developed the Whole House Engineering add-on for its AutoCAD-based Timber Frame and Floor software package. Whole House Engineering allows timber-frame makers and designers to generate structural and engineering calculations during the design process. The add-on allows an Ordinance Survey grid reference to be entered once a timber frame design has been finalised. Variants such as ground conditions, wind speeds and site altitude are automatically included in the model and users can select the "analyse" option to instruct the software to process engineering calculations and report any components that will fail. The user can then return to the drawing phase, modify the design and re-run the analysis until a satisfactory design is achieved.
Consultec, which is a subsidiary of Eleco, says that the initial versions of Whole House Engineering will incorporate traditional timber frame components such as solid sections and I-beams in the frames and floors.
How to manage CADs
Autodesk has introduced its AutoCAD 2005 family of CAD-draughting products. The main new feature of the core application, AutoCAD, is the ability to manage multiple sets of drawings inside the application rather than one sheet at a time. The company says there can be hundreds of pages within a complete set of drawings, and this facility makes it easier to manage a project. A sheet set manager enables the user to collate drawing sheets into logical sets and subsets that can be user-defined by, say, the project or company. The manager also enables users to add or delete sheets from a sheet set and create sheet standards over multiple projects. The software now incorporates a publishing workflow feature that automatically plots drawings to paper and dwf formats for exporting to another application. More collaboration tools have been incorporated into the release, including dwf composer, a tool that integrates comments received from other team members back into the software to complete the design review process. There is also a dwf viewer that allows anyone on the project team to view and print dwf format drawings. Other products within the AutoCAD 2005 family include AutoCAD 2005 LT, a 2D-only draughting package, Architectural Desktop 2005 and Autodesk Building Systems 2005, which is designed specifically for building systems engineers.
Follow that phone
Mapaphone has announced that its phone tracking service is now available on the O2 network. This enables a mobile phone to be tracked by companies or individuals linking into the mobile phone network. It could be useful for managing mobile workforces, particularly delivery drivers or service personnel. A mobile phone owner has to agree to their phone being tracked and register with the service before the location of the phone can be identified.
Enhanced virtual viewing
NavisWorks has released the latest version of its interactive 3D design viewing software. Navisworks3 version 3.4 enhances or adds support for MicroStation V8, ArchiCAD 8.1, Revit 6, elcoCAD v4 and 3DS Max 5 & 6 in Navisworks3 Roamer. It includes enhancements in the TimeLiner3 plug-in, which enables users to incorporate schedules into the software. The improvements in TimeLiner3 include better project software compatibility and enhanced simulation display. The addition of a MicroStation V8 dgn reader means that non-CAD users can review dgn files in Navisworks3.
Improved core elements
The Steel Construction Institute has upgraded the Cellbeam software for Westok. The SCI says the engineering core of the cellular beam software has been updated to cover the new version of BS 5950:2000 Part 1. It also includes advances in the fabrication and application of cellular beams and SCI claims the software is now quicker and has a more intuitive interface. The upgraded software now covers more designs featuring cellular beams such as: mono-tapered cantilevers for applications such as grandstand roofs; double-tapered beams supporting simple roofs; and elongated openings for the accommodation of large services. It can also be used to analyse and design curved cellular beams.
Steel Construction Institute/Westok
Unwired for sound: Top 10 tips for getting the most from wireless technologyMany firms are investing in wireless solutions, where devices are connected through radio signals rather than wires. But interoperability, security and compatibility issues mean that there is still widespread misunderstanding about the pros, cons and potential of the technology. Anna McCrea of IT Construction Best Practice offers the following advice to companies considering upgrading their network or adding a wireless solution
1 - Try to avoid walking away with a bag over your head by learning the lingo
- A WLAN (wireless local area network) is a wireless broadband computer network.
- WiFi (wireless fidelity) is the most common standard that offers a way of transmitting information using the 802.11b protocol for short distances. It uses high frequency radio signals to transmit and receive data and offers a connection speed of 11 megabits per second. It has a signal range of about 91 m. Other WiFi standards are the 802.11a and 802.11g protocols.
- Bluetooth is a protocol enabling voice and data connections between devices, both mobile and stationary, through short-range (about 10 m) digital two-way radio.
2 - Make sure a wireless solution meets your business needs
It’s all too easy to jump on the bandwagon of the latest technology. Any investment in wireless solutions should be driven by a sound business case with a clear idea of the estimated return on investment and how the system integrates with business processes.
3 - Ensure your wireless solution is interoperable with wired networks
Don’t invest in a system that is difficult or impossible to integrate with your existing wired systems in your company. Consult your vendor about the integration capabilities. Choose a system that can easily integrate with new-generation networks, as well as with different branded networks.
4 - Get to grips with the practicalities of installing a hotspot
A Public Wireless Hotspot is an area where a computer or PDA equipped with a WLAN module can connect to the internet through wireless access points. If you own a laptop computer or a PDA with a built-in WLAN adapter or with a WLAN (WiFi) PC-Card then you are ready to connect to Hotspots all over the world. If you own a laptop without WiFi, then you’ll have to buy a PC card (cost £50-70) to obtain wireless internet access. If you want to equip your office with your own public Hotspot you will need an access point and a broadband connection.
5 - Be prepared to use a consultant for installation and support
Small wireless networks are generally easy to install. However the more users there are, the more complicated installation is and you might need continuing support. It might be sensible to hire a technology consultant to oversee implementation. Spend time and effort on drafting a suitable service agreement to cover installation and support as well as remote access, future integration with DSL …
6 - Watch out for interference problems
Wireless networks have been known to slow down or fade away in certain offices or site locations. The problem could be a microwave oven causing bandwidth congestion; it could be a filing cabinet, or even the material in a wall or floor. Check with vendors and consultants to determine what kind of interference can be expected and to select the optimal location for the access point. If you find that your new wireless network works only in a tiny corner, you have probably got an inexpensive and substandard system.
7 - Be aware of security hazards
The widely used IEEE 802.11-based WLANs present new challenges for network and information security administrators. Unlike the relative simplicity of wired Ethernet networks, 802.11-based wireless LANs broadcast radio-frequency data for the client stations to hear. This presents new and complex security issues, requiring the addition of user authentication to prevent unauthorised access.
8 - Use technology to work more efficiently
Not only does wireless technology enhance communication between remote sites and head office, it also offers the opportunity to streamline recording and documenting site processes. Monitoring and keeping records of the excavation and pile works can now be dealt with using PDAs. Typically, remote activities such as asset management and maintenance, snagging and defect management can now be seamlessly integrated with main office systems through PDAs and mobile phones. The opportunities to improve business processes and communications are endless – exploit the potential.
9 - Train employees and brief partners
The success of a pilot project often rests on how well participants and help-desk personnel are trained. Start early to train users in how to get started, how to use the system, and how to obtain support. Prepare comprehensive training material and FAQs and ensure your IT and technical support teams know the new technology inside out.
10 - Buy from a tested vendor
It’s common sense, but worth mentioning – buy from a tried and trusted vendor that has experience of supplying wireless solutions that meet the specific needs of construction businesses.
For more IT advice and guidance log on to www.itcbp.org.uk