Human vs. + Machine: Physical and Virtual Observation Methods for Our Future

Human vs. + Machine: Physical and Virtual Observation Methods for Our Future


Covid-19 has ushered in a dilemma of duties in the construction and architectural fields. As design professionals, our contractual, statutory, and professional obligations require us to conduct on-site observation while providing a safe working environment. In this new world of travel restrictions, social distancing, and remote work – we need creative solutions to adapt and continue construction projects. How can we best address this dilemma? As the AIA’s standard of care guidance during Covid-19 suggests: “…the best course of action at this time is to openly communicate with other project participants…work toward a mutually acceptable resolution, such as… limit(ing) the number of people onsite…(and) adopting methods of virtual observation.”

It is therefore understandable to ask: “Can we reduce human-to-human contact through virtual observation? This question hinges on a more fundamental one; Are methods of virtual observation reliable?

To answer this question, we must make a comparison to human performance. While this is a complex, multi-faceted subject, we can identify two key factors that are helpful in this comparison.

  1. Visual Freedom: Can the virtual observer see the same content and in the same context as the on-site observer? By capturing 30 fps 360-degree video in the field, a virtual observer can select a unique view every 2” inches along the same path as someone in the field, allowing them to observe any object of interest from any angle or distance. Additionally, because the camera can be suspended over railing or into concealed spaces, a virtual observer can often make observations not possible by the on-site observer alone –surpassing what is available to the traditional on-site observer.
  2. Visual Acuity: Can the virtual observer see objects with the same clarity as the on-site observer? So called “normal” 20/20 vision can distinguish about 1 arc-minute, or the space between the figure and void of the letter “E” at a prescribed size and distance. When we translate this into pixels, the human observer far surpasses the current best-in-class 360 degree video, by a factor of about 250%. However, this disparity is overcome when a camera is extended and held closer to an object. This is the case under normal use. Typically, 360 video is captured by extending the camera on a mono-pod overhead. In this fashion, the camera can capture the equivalent of 1 arc-minute, achieving parity with the human observer.

By comparing the visual freedom and acuity made possible by this method, we believe virtual observation in the field is a very viable solution, and an important tool in addressing our professional obligations. Learn more in the presentation.

This presentation originally appeared in a webinar hosted by Vermeulens.

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