While I was in Hungary this summer for vacation and some family visitation (my wife is Hungarian) I had the pleasure of not only revisiting one of my favorite European cities but also seeing the beautiful Graphisoft Park, a world class technology business center nestled along the Danube river. Naturally Graphisoft Inc. is headquartered there but other major technology companies call it home (in Hungary) as well, including Microsoft.
Graphisoft Park and the Case to Crush Paper-Based Survey Work
But while the park features some famous tenants—among the creative ponds, bridges, walkways and trees lies smaller innovators as well. This is where Laszlo Toth, co-founder of innovative OrthoGraph Architect 3D, has also set up shop. Tucked into a smaller building volume belonging to building complex G, OrthoGraph is a little studio space with a small but dedicated and determined team.
Heading that team is Mr. Toth. On this particular day I had only been in Budapest for about 24 hours but Andrea Veress of OrthoGraph skillfully and politely slotted me into their busy day and around my earlier planned engagement at Graphisoft, just across the way. It was gracious of them and it was very well worth it.
For those of you who don’t know what OrthoGraph Architect 3D is, it’s an award-winning mobile app for iPad. And a very professional one at that. It’s the type of app that, for starters, isn’t free or in the ten euro range. This app has a more ‘professional’ price.
When we all sat down I asked Toth to explain to me the beginnings of the idea for OrthoGraph Architect. “Things came together around 2010,” said Toth, noting that in the beginning the ideas were formulated and there were three co-founders at that time. “Adam Korbuly is the other co-founder who is still apart of the company we started,” he added. “The main idea of the app came from Adam, who had been participating in projects with massive building surveys. It had become obvious that creating floor plans and as-built drawings based on pencil-and-paper surveys was neither precise nor effective.”
“Adam initially created the concept of the software and found two major points where a software can make the process more effective,” explains Toth. “One is eliminating site revisits, which is the most expensive part, and the other is reducing the back-office workload as much as possible.” Toth explained that what typically happens with paper-based work is missing or wrong measurements. With OrthoGraph Architect 3D the user closes on their plan work, thus reconciling dimensions or at least catching errors while actually on site. Back at the office the OrthoGraph Architect 3D work gets exported directly to useable CAD and BIM formats.
I asked Lazlo Toth if early on the company took any investment funds and he said they did not go that route. However, being so closely connected and physically next door to Graphisoft has had some benefits, including the benefits of technical corporation.
One Person, a Laser and IFC
What OrthoGraph Architect 3D does is help users like architects, engineers, real estate professionals and even firemen survey an existing building quickly without having to use paper and pencil and a lot of measuring tape work—which typically takes two people. OrthoGraph Architect 3D can work with a laser scanner device like the Leica Disto D100/E7100i. As your laser scanner takes distances it updates the floor plan emerging on your iPad.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that with Graphisoft literally next door and an ex-Graphisoft software engineer as a founder that OrthoGraph Architect 3D converts its plans to native ArchiCAD file format for direct import into that popular BIM tool. You can also export out to DXF, SketchUp and even IFC format. In fact, this may be the only iOS application in existence that can start a 3D drawing and save out to IFC—Industry Foundation Class—file format.
From Architects to Firemen
Part of the pleasure in talking to software startups is learning a bit about their initial ideas and finding out what premises did and didn’t come true for them. While Laszlo Toth and Adam Korbuly both imagined this tool for use by architects in particular (hence the BIM connectivity features) it turns out there were some unexpected inquiries. “We have had a lot of interest in the real estate markets,” said Toth, “and lately we’ve started to see some big interest by police and fire departments.” Some of this was unexpected but of course very welcome. It should be noted that police and fire departments in particular could yield very large orders if a digital tool like OrthoGraph Architect becomes an instituted standard across say an entire county or city.
As a result of the unique twist and turns that emerge in the world of software startups Toth did note that the company is now looking at things a bit differently. “We are starting to recognize that the Apple App Store model for getting your applications out there isn’t necessarily the best model for everyone,” said Toth. While admitting that the App Store is a huge success in general, some classes of customers (maybe city police departments for instance) aren’t inclined to acquire their technologies via a store that is ultimately very consumer oriented.
“Professional users have professional channels for their acquisitions,” said Toth, “and these typically come with professional support in the way of training and services.” In talking to many of the newer segments of their customers Toth is finding that their prospects are interested and would be happy to pay quite a bit more for apps on iPads if the training and services come as part of the package so that the technology meets its fullest potential. Big companies roll out new technologies in a much more structured and often more effective way. And that’s a take away that has the OrthoGraph folks now rethinking their strategies. “Right now we are looking at partners in the value-added reseller (VAR) space so we can reach more verticals and sell at higher prices,” says Toth with a heathy sense of optimism.
I asked Toth if he was concerned about the emergence of rival technologies like Google’s Project Tango, which uses 3D scanner technology to sort of do similar things but without the Leica laser tech included. He noted he wasn’t concerned, as that technology isn’t just concept technology but will take years to reach the accuracy levels that today’s current laser measuring devices possess.