Jim Balding, CEO and founder of the architecture and design- technology research firm The ANT Group, has three passions: buildings, technology and improving communication. Balding will be among the presenters who will highlight game-changing technology at ENR's FutureTech conference in San Francisco on July 10. He recently chatted with ENR about key trends.


What's an emerging tech trend that will disrupt how the AEC industry works?

One of the trends that's starting to emerge is digital fabrication. It [enables me] to model something, highly customized, without dimensions. I don't have to draw it, I don't have to dimension it. Digital fabrication brings the cost of construction down and time to market down. It's a natural winner.


How do you contrast that technology with 3D printing?

3D printing can print in metals and hundreds of materials. But with digital fab, I can print or prefabricate a bunch of pieces and assemble them faster. This optimizes the construction of my building and my document costs.


How widespread is the use of augmented reality in the AEC sector ?

There are some areas that are really interesting and important for augmented reality [adoption]. First and foremost is visualization. AR allows you to visualize model data in any format, including on-site, so you can use a marker or geo-located program that would allow you to see [the planned structure] in context with everything else. The key is that designers experience it before it is real.

The next thing to emerge with AR is with design options— being able to jump around a building [model] virtually. There's already software available to allow you to create hot spots inside these applications.