Three years ago, the construction industry was the last thing on Chunjie Duan’s mind.
As a scientist at the Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories in Cambridge, Mass., Duan was in pure research, developing standards for low data rate transmission over ultra-wideband frequencies for precision location finding. He was working with radio chips that measure the distance between one chip and another, even when the chips are indoors and separated by walls.
Then, Duan described it to a construction technology developer he had just met. “He said, ‘This can be used in construction!’—and that’s how I learned about the construction industry,” says Duan.
Introductions flew, and Duan helped to launch Redpoint Positioning Inc., a company founded on using the chips in tags for danger-zone mapping and personnel tracking on jobsites and indoor locations.
At Redpoint, Duan is chief technology officer. “I lead the R&D group, and we just bury our heads in the lab. The other fellows are in charge of the business development,” he says.
The R&D group already has six patents and applications. “We developed unique positioning algorithms and the scheme of how you provide this location service with a large number of tags so they don’t interfere with each other,” Duan says. “The tags automatically form a mesh network. And we developed proprietary protocols, the location schemes, the hardware and the user interface. It has an open API [application programming interface], so our partners can develop their own applications on top of Redpoint’s platform.”
Pilots are in progress with Skanska and Bechtel, among others. Tony Colonna, Skanska’s senior vice president for innovative construction solutions, says, “From a technology standpoint, I have no issues with the system, what it can do and what it is capable of,” Colonna says. “The experimentation now is really with the social aspect of it—how people are going to react to being tracked on the jobsite.”