Digital whiteboards allow design teams to capture plan markups

December 01, 2004 |

How many times have you been through hours of discussions and had to dig through flat files looking for a marked-up drawing that represented a client's desire for a change in a project, only to find it's been thrown away or destroyed? As building projects become more complex, being able to retrieve such information is becoming an necessity.

Whether it's a set of large wide-format boards on a wall, a high-definition plasma screen displaying a PowerPoint presentation, AutoCAD files, or photographs, it would be great to be able to capture hand markups that can then be recorded and sent to the project teams. Since 1991, Calgary, Alberta-based Smart Technologies has been providing this technology to the A/E/C community.

Whiteboard simplicity

The company's approach is simple: Anything that can be displayed in large format, whether a printed large-format plot of a floor plan or an image display from a computer and projected on a wall or a video display, can be marked up with tools that have the touch and feel of Magic Markers and captured electronically. A range of products is designed for architects and engineers, as well as for those in academia and government.

Smart Technologies provides three basic solutions, all of which produce the same results. In each case, these solutions offer the simplicity of a whiteboard with the power of a computer. The company's Front Projection product places sensors on a wall and works with existing projector and computers. The Rear Projection solution includes an integrated projector that can be a mobile unit or permanent installation. The Flat Panel overlay solution fits over an existing plasma display or LCD screen.

A Smart Board interactive whiteboard connects to a computer with a USB or serial cable. Markup software is included with the system. The software converts contact, whether with the company's "electronic markers" or even your own finger, into digital ink, to write over applications on display. The markups can be saved to files that can be retrieved, e-mailed, and printed for future reference.

Using the company's Bridgit software, the system can be used for data and video conferencing with teams in remote locations. The software works well with Microsoft's NetMeeting and other conferencing applications. Smart is currently working with PolyGram, which develops high-end video conferencing technology, on joint products. As a royalty-free tool, the software can be downloaded and used to edit files created from a Smart Board session. A smooth and powerful tool, the product captures the mode and personality of a person's writing and drawing, something that computer-aided drawings cannot do.

A hit in Hawaiian charrettes

The AIA Honolulu chapter uses the Smart Board interactive whiteboard with SketchUp software ( during paperless urban design charrettes. Design teams gather around the product's interactive whiteboard to brainstorm ideas on a large, digital space — versus the traditional process of reviewing hard-copy paper plans on the drafting table. The teams collaborate and draw design ideas in 2-D and 3-D format in electronic ink on-the-fly and save files electronically for future reference. Capturing ideas electronically in this way not only makes the plans information-rich, but also makes them easily accessible to the design team and client/community.

After experiencing this innovative approach to charrettes, several participating design firms purchased the interactive whiteboards for their offices as well. The interactive whiteboards were also used at the city and county of Honolulu's Vision Team meetings (at the request of Honolulu mayor Jeremy Harris, Honorary Affiliate AIA), as well as the AIA's "Chat with an Architect" program at local malls, to obtain community input on neighborhood design projects.

Hawaiiana Development Group LLC (HDG), in conjunction with Honolulu-based architecture firm Group 70 International Inc., also uses the interactive whiteboard in their charrette process, collaborating and interacting hands-on with residential designs, making notes and revisions on-the-fly in digital ink, and saving files for future reference. Today, the interactive whiteboard and Bridgit conferencing software are playing important roles in the HDG's charrette process on a large-scale project currently under way, which links consultants in four geographic locations overseas: HDG's headquarters on the island of Oahu, design consultants on the islands of Maui and Hawaii, and the client in New York.

Using Notebook software (included in Smart Board software), the architects import screen captures of designs before meetings, so the mock-ups are ready for notation. During meetings, it's also easy to pull up archival data quickly and display it on-screen. HDG also uses the interactive whiteboard for sales and marketing presentations.

"More so than any prior period, time is at a premium today," says Nancy Knowlton, president and co-CEO of Smart Technologies. "The touch-sensitivity and digital ink mean that ideas can be captured quickly and designs can be modified easily, eliminating the time-consuming process of re-creating designs on paper."

Whiteboard vendors
eBeam Egan Teamboard Hitachi
Numonics Panasonic Plus Vision Corp.
Polyvision Promethean Smart Technologies
Tegrity Virtual Ink 3M

Overlay Init