Back in 2017, we teamed up with Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences to launch the first and only augmented and virtual reality innovation sprint in the Baltics — the AR/VR Hackathon. What has now turned into an annual event, has brought about a lot of creative products ranging from gaming and arts to some more serious use cases in medicine. But, somehow, last year marked a different milestone.
In 2019, an actual business (now officially registered) was born at our event and has been steadily moving forward since. As we prepare to gather industry enthusiasts for another AR/VR jamming session in April 2020, we sat down with the team that has become our ‘first’ to find out more about their product, the brand new business, Hackathon experience and future plans.
Synchronized architecture in augmented reality
Architect and 3D Modeller by trade, Māris Putns, came up with a specification for a solution for optimizing some aspects of the construction process three years ago. “BIM (Building Information Modelling) is widely used in architecture throughout the world and has been taking over the Latvian market for quite some time. But when it comes to checking technical specifications before, during, and post-construction — architects take massive rolls of papers and folders of other hard-copy materials to dusty construction sites. Once I became familiar with augmented reality, I came up with an idea for a solution that could optimize these processes by synchronizing BIM information and 3D models with real-life settings in AR.”
The solution that Māris thought of a few years back was brought to life at the AR/VR Hackathon 2019 and is today known as BIMSynch. Industry professionals who would very much appreciate such a tool include the above-mentioned architects, as well as builders, system engineers (electronics, ventilation, etc.), and real estate managers.
BIMSynch allows for BIM file information to be uploaded to its server, where a 3D model is created. All metadata and project information such as manufacturers’ info, item specifications, required labels, and more are captured by the system. “Anyone with a registered profile and access to certain projects, can open up the app and pick a layer that they are interested in reviewing, regardless if it’s an electrician, a builder, or someone who maintains the real estate,” adds Māris.
Three years from an idea to a test solution
But getting the concept to fruition is no mean feat, admits Māris. “When I first thought of the solution, the technology wasn’t quite there yet. And BIM was just hitting the local market, although worldwide it was introduced around 10 years ago. To top it all off, I also didn’t have a team or finances to move forward.”
As time passed and other projects filled his diary, Māris’ paths crossed with a talented AR developer, Uldis Šiliņš, who brings his technical know-how from the multimedia environment. They kept in touch. In 2018 he met, now the CEO of BIMSynch, Jānis Delviņš. “Due to the fact that our professional work paths were intersected and he was also interested in optimizing construction processes for brand new BIM projects, I shared the idea of the solution with him and he got taken by it. At the end of the day, if we can optimize processes, we save money. With an excellent background in business, Jānis saw a clear goal and clientele for the business.”
So, what does it all have to do with the AR/VR Hackathon? Why didn’t the team get onto working as soon as the key people turned up? Māris explains that while the trio were all in with the idea, life was getting in the way: “All three of us — we just couldn’t find enough time to get together to create a test project. So after some unsuccessful back and forths, Gatis at Overly invited me to the AR/VR Hackathon. It seemed like the perfect place to meet and work on this idea non-stop. Industry mentors are at the event, so it is also an excellent platform to build, test, and get feedback. All at once, all in 48 hours.”
Success at the AR/VR Hackathon 2019
While other participants were splitting into teams, the determined ensemble started to work. “We got to the venue and appreciating how precious the time was, dropped our bags, and got onto working straight away. To create a mock-up, we used lasers to measure one of the classrooms at Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences. Based on my own architectural background, I did some guesswork. I created a 3D model of the room, outlining where the pipes go, where the wiring is, radiators, ventilation, and so on. Uldis programmed the mock-up app,” tells Māris.
Once the app was complete, the judges were able to synchronize the 3D model with the room and explore its industrial layers in augmented reality. The feedback was great, and out of four nominations, the group scooped two wins. “The mentors were trying to break the coordinates but with no success. Our test version worked precisely, which is an absolute must for architectural synchronization. We ended up winning the title of the best AR project and got chosen for a business accelerator program with Startup Wise Guys. It was there and then, after getting the awards, that we agreed to stick to our idea and work together going forward.”
Life after the Hackathon
It’s been less than a year since the team first tested its idea. Since then, they’ve been meeting regularly, established and registered a business, gone through business perspectives, put together a business plan and a marketing strategy, and their web and social networks are now live.
They have also been working on establishing relationships with potential clients and building a valid prototype product. The trio is now looking for a long-term investment to speed up the process and bring BIMSynch to the market.
“We have been offered a couple of investment options, but we are looking for a EUR 200,000 boost so we can get our product on the shelves within a year. We have a lot of interest from potential clients, and we are now working on getting together some protocols of intent to show our potential investors that it is truly a real deal with great potential.”
Advice to other Hackathon newbies?
The AR/VR Hackathon brings together lots of people, even if you do not have a team to start with. Regardless if coming with an existing team or setting up at the start of the event, Māris has solid advice: “If you are attending the Hackathon for just a jam with like-minded people, you are bound to have fun. But, if you really want to get something valuable out of the event, do not gather together for a silly joke. Take it seriously. Choose the concept that has potential, listen to those who come with ideas, and pick the team you wanna join carefully, using these 48 hours to their full potential.”