Ranjith SomanCentre for Systems Engineering and Innovation
Supervised by Prof. Jennifer Whyte and Dr David Birch

Ranjith joined Imperial College after studying for his bachelors degree in Civil Engineering from the Government Engineering College Trichur affiliated to the University of Calicut and a Master’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M). Coming from a developing country, India, Ranjith saw that Civil Engineering could be a good foundation to create change in society, as it contributes 10% of the GDP

During his Master’s degree he focused on a number of issues related to Construction Management, specifically on monitoring the viaduct construction of one corridor of the Hyderabad Metro Rail Ltd. project (HMRL- a rapid transit system currently under construction, for the city dwellers of Hyderabad) in an automated manner making use of the structural responses of equipment involved. Following his Masters, Ranjith was employed as a Project Engineer at the Building Automation Lab, IIT Madras, involved in the design of the sensor configuration and control system for a building automation system for self-assembly of columns and beams.

Why did you decide to do a PhD in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering?

As I reached the last lap of my M.S. program, naturally my next priority was to do some independent research in the field of Information technology pertaining to the Construction Industry. Having gained the confidence and motivation to pursue a PhD, I saw a great future ahead in Construction Information Technology. The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Imperial College London is an extremely distinguished department and that caught my attention while choosing my next destination.

Tell us about your PhD research- what, why, how?

The global construction industry accounted for approximately 11 % of the global GDP in 2011 and is predicted to increase to more than 13.2 % by 2020. The major contribution to these sums comes from complex infrastructure projects with numerous interdependencies. Despite being large and complex, many of these projects are still managed with traditional construction management practices. This results in cost overruns and schedule delays. Building on the advances in the computing and visualization domains, the construction industry is moving towards more agile project management practices to improve the performance and efficiency. Our research discusses a subsystem for such an agile project management practice by proposing an integrated cloud-based framework for interactive visualisation and automated data collection enabling bi-directional flow between planning office and office at the construction site. This seeks to take advantage of the new opportunities arising because of the consumer AR devices that have come to market. It contributes to the trajectory of research on virtual and augmented reality in construction by articulating low-cost approaches to data acquisition, processing, and AR to reduce the need for high computing devices.

What impact do you hope your research will have/what do you hope your research will lead on to?

New forms of project delivery are emerging that enable more rapid and agile forms of organizing which use a digital infrastructure of computers, mobile devices, sensors, broadband network connections, and application platforms, which, in the construction phase, have the potential to permeate and transform the activities and relationships across the construction office and site. The current research contributes to the trajectory of research on augmented reality in construction by articulating a novel approach to construction progress monitoring through passive data acquisition, cloud-based processing and use of consumer AR devices. The framework has the potential to ensure automated data collection and fast processing of raw data into meaningful BIM representation with the help of a cloud server. The proposed framework would enable visualisation at the construction site without the need of high-end computing devices, thereby, extending the reach of BIM application all the way to the construction front.

Does your research involve working with collaborators outside of the Department? If so who and why?

Yes. My current research is co-supervised by Dr David Birch in the Data Science Institute, Imperial College London. Dr Birch is an expert in the area of visualisation and data analytics and his expertise has a positive influence on the research. In addition, Bentley Systems is an industrial collaborator for the current research.

What is a typical week like for you?

Every week is different and it is hard to describe a typical week. Generally, I would be conducting surveys on the work carried out by peer researchers around the globe, developing application and coding to support my research topic and running tests on the same. I have meetings with my supervisors and collaborators at least once a week to provide updates on progress and decide on the next research direction. If there is an interesting event or conference pertaining to my area, I would attend.

How have your skills developed, both professional and personal?

My current research often involves networking with the best minds in the profession and working on associated projects. This has helped improve my leadership and teamwork skills. Also, the professional skill courses run by the Graduate School have had a positive impact on skills such as communication and academic writing.

What do you enjoy most about being a PhD student in the Department?

The best thing about being a PhD in the department is the freedom the department gives me to pursue my passion while supporting me with all the infrastructure to do so.

What advice would you give someone considering doing a PhD?

A PhD degree is a learning experience. Unlike taught courses, there are no guidelines or timelines. You should be self-motivated with a strong passion for the subject. It is this motivation which will drive you forward when you have to face failures and learn from them. The tip to a successful PhD is to enjoy the ‘journey’.