Disperse, a London-based startup that helps construction companies automatically capture and process visual data from construction sites, has raised $15 million in a series A round of funding from Northzone, with participation from Revolt Ventures, Kindred, and Frontline.

Founded in 2015, Disperse is one of a number of startups setting out to disrupt the trillion-dollar construction industry, a sector not renowned for its efficiency due in part to a general lack of digitization. At its core, Disperse is all about helping companies track progress across construction projects to identify inefficiencies, through capturing imagery and using computer vision to spot issues as soon as they occur — before they escalate into bigger (and more expensive) problems. It also promises to help free people from repetitive manual admin so they can work on more important tasks.

“The most valuable asset that any company has is its people, and we want to free up those people to focus on more creative and strategic endeavors and equip them with the right solutions to rethink how construction is managed,” noted Disperse CEO and cofounder Felix Neufeld.

The Disperse platform creates what the company calls a “digital twin” of a site, through combining construction schedules, 3D models, drawings, and weekly snapshots captured on-site. This allows any stakeholder to check in from anywhere in the world and see what progress is being made, or root out inefficiencies and bottlenecks. Users can also backtrack to see the state of a site at a particular moment in time, which may help in terms of solving disputes over issues that arise and at what stage of the job they happened.

The result is that Disperse can serve as a database and photographic record of everything that has happened during a project’s fit-out phase.

Above: Disperse in action

With many different players involved in a typical construction project, being able to quickly identify which party is responsible when something goes wrong can help speed up the project — but more than that, with Disperse’s technology it may help prevent problems getting to an advanced stage by spotting them earlier.

“I grew up on construction sites, in a big construction family,” Neufeld added. “We’re frequently contrasted with industries like manufacturing, where productivity has accelerated. The big problem in our industry is that as soon as things start going wrong, everybody starts looking for someone to blame — developers blame general contractors and general contractors blame subcontractors, but the finger pointing and subjectivity only causes more productivity loss.”

In terms of how Disperse captures the imagery, someone — either employed by Disperse or the customer — traverses the site for a few hours each week equipped with a 360° camera. The camera is just an off-the-shelf device, and doesn’t entail any special proprietary hardware or anything like that — the secret sauce really, is what comes after the data is captured, which includes processing it and applying computer vision to understand what’s happening on-site.

“Customers are primarily focused on deriving value from insights and are not particularly focused on how the data gets captured, so Disperse has made that priority the focus as well,” Neufeld told VentureBeat. “The capture process is designed to provide the customer with the most powerful actionable information in a way that causes the least amount of disruption to existing workflows on a hazardous construction site.”

Disperse already claims a number of big construction and real estate company clients, including Canary Wharf Contractors, Mace, Meyer Bergman, and Bouygues. And with another $15 million in the bank, it said that it plans to turbo-charge its expansion into the U.S. and invest in R&D alongside “select customers.”

AI in construction

As with other industries, much of the construction industry’s push to improve on efficiency involves automated tools. A number of platforms similar to Disperse have emerged onto the scene — San Francisco-based OpenSpace recently raised $14 million, Indus.ai closed an $8 million round for something similar, and Doxel.ai operates a platform that is not too dissimilar. So it’s clear that there is a real appetite not only for digitizing an age-old industry, but automating it.

Above: Disperse in action

According to Neufeld, one of Disperse’s strengths lies in its focus not purely on capturing visual documentation, but in the deep insights that its data unlocks. “Instead of focusing on the method of visual image capturing, or on creating a lightweight documentation tool, Disperse has focused on creating a more complete solution that turns captured images into measurable and actionable insight, and that integrates directly with existing construction plans and technology,” he said. “The technology is designed to make an impact at all levels of production instead of just project-level.”

It’s also worth looking at Northzone’s involvement in this funding round. The European VC firm, which has raised more than $1 billion across eight funds over the past two decades, recently backed another AI-powered construction tech startup in the form of Norway-based Spacemaker, which is developing simulation software that automatically creates the layout designs for residential developments. The inherent value of the construction industry, and its ripeness for modernization, is evidently an attractive proposition for investors.

“We see industries that have traditionally been slower to innovate, increasingly being disrupted by technology,” noted Northzone partner Michiel Kotting. “If applied in the right way, AI can strongly accelerate this momentum. As the construction industry has a trillion dollar productivity gap, we have been on the lookout for bold entrepreneurs that address this challenge.”

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