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TurboSite v1.3, Enterprise Edition, by IMSI/Design

By Steve Stafford, October 31, 2013

TurboSite lets you load a floor plan or 3D model file on an iPad and add information to it during a visit to the construction site. The information can consist of photos, audio and video which are attached to location markers (called "GeoMarks" by the IMSI/Design folks; see figure 1). This can be done with a variety of devices and software packages but combining it all into a single application should make field work much more productive.

Figure 1: Enterprise displaying GeoMarks (red arrows)

TurboSite Enterprise and TurboSite Reader

For this article, I'll focus on TurboSite's Enterprise and briefly mention TurboSite Reader, which is free.

TurboSite Reader allows for viewing of TurboSite report files, which are stored in IMSI/Design's own package file with a TAP (short for "TurboAPps") extension. I can't save anything with Reader. I can, however, view documents we send via email and access through Dropbox, FTP, and other similar document storage methods.

This free program supports a wide range of AEC and MCAD file formats, such as DWG, DXF, DWF, DGN, PDF, 3D PDF, SKP, and STEP.

TurboSite Enterprise combines real time positioning and tracking, documentation, mark-up (redlining) features, support for 3D PDF, as well as many visual styles. It reads SHX and TTF font files, if they are copied to the TurboSite documents folder (using the iTunes sync method).

The biggest enhancements in TurboSite v1.3 are automatic report generation and add-in applications that run inside Revit and AutoCAD. The plug-ins give AutoCAD and Revit the ability embed audio and video from TurboSite that is geolocated to the correct areas of drawing.

Getting Acquainted

After I downloaded, installed and started the app, I was greeted with the File Manager screen. This is where I chose the file with which to work. Figure 2 shows an addition where I create and rename folders and files. Fortunately, IMSI/Design provides a number of sample design files with which to experiment. A double tap on a file name opens it; alternatively, you can click the Play button found in the upper right corner.

Figure 2: TurboSite's File Manager screen

It's somewhat unique that this app provides a measure of file and folder management. Most iPad/iPhone applications handle internally the data we create, and don't offer much control over where or how our data is stored. With TurboSite, I was pleased that I could organize my information as I see fit.

I opened the "Commercial Project Example" file (see figure 3). It is a DWG site plan that has been prepared with examples of previous site visits.

Figure 3: Sample commercial project open in TurboSite Enterprise

Notice in figure 3 the white arrows with the round red backgrounds. These are GeoMarks: each mark stores related images, video, text, and audio. Imagine walking on a site and observing something that might be a problem. TurboSite uses the iPad's capabilities to capture your thoughts with an audio clip, type a note, take photos, and even record some video – all helping to document the condition of the construction site. I found that I could even place marks in advance as a reminder to ensure I would visit the trouble spots upon arriving on the site at which time I could fine-tune the locations of the marks and added details.

To capture things live on-site (and it makes sense to do so), I allowed TurboSite to use its GeoWalk function to track my location as I moved within the structure and the site. The iPad's built-in GPS and motion sensors are not always exact so I used GeoNudge to pinpoint my exact location by "nudging" the marker closer to a specific spot. IMSI/Design has applied for patents for both GeoWalk and GeoNudge. Both can be used with or without an Internet connection.

Using the Interface and Tools

On the left side of its screen, TurboSite offers markup tools with filing, viewing, and reporting tools along the right side. I found I could reduce both tool panels to a single button, allowing me to maximize the screen space for viewing drawings.

Buttons at the top left provide access to the file manager, help system, and full-screen toggle. Next door, in the middle, is a progress bar that doubles as the active filename display. At the right are the GeoMark tools.

TurboSite boasts a large number of markup tools for drawing and inquiring: drawing smart polygons, lines, rectangle, circles, and clouds; applying highlights; toggling between markup and inquiry modes, undo-redo, and inquiring about properties.

The Smart Polygon tool (what IMSI/Design calls "AutoShape" tools), is rather special in that it generates a variety of shapes based on interpreting our sketch movements. After a little experimentation, I found it quite easy to create a variety of rectilinear and curved shapes.

The Inquiry toggle reveals tools for measuring and marking up distances to verify or confirm drawing dimensions.

The filing, viewing, and reporting tools include buttons for GeoMark List, Layouts (model and paper space), Views (named and axonometric views), Layers, Visual Styles, Snapshot, Reports, Team, Save, and Settings. There are settings for Gestures, GeoWalk, Calibrate, Warnings, and Quality.

Capturing Data

The app relies on the iPad's built-in camera to take photos or video. These are positioned correctly in the drawing automatically, and assigned to a separate layer over the electronic file.

When I added text notes and/or audio annotations, geolocation properties were added automatically. GeoMarks even captured my orientation - the direction in which I was facing at the time. When I found my marks out of sync with the geometry of the building, I used GeoNudge to adjust them. Alternatively, I found I could step back and so recalibrate the app: this consists of me picking a point, walking to another location, and then picking another point to identify where I was now.

If you like using the iPad's voice-to-text input, then it's worth noting that it's possible do just about all the "typing" with your voice. The results are pretty consistent.

Reviewing Information from the Field

Once I captured site information, I reviewed it. I activated GeoMarks by tapping on their icons; alternatively, you can open the GeoMark manager which is a small window, which lets you review photos, videos, and audio files (see figure 4). While reviewing the information, I can add more if needed - or just delete the entire GeoMark.

Figure 4: GeoMarks viewer open in TurboSite

It would be nice enhancement if we could tell just by looking at icons whether there are any items attached, perhaps by adding a number next to the icon to indicate there four videos, for example. For now, we have to click on each icon to see if anything is present.

New in v1.3: Reports

If you've spent hours on site taking pictures and making notes and then have to spend several more hours at the office organizing them into a meaningful report, then you may find one new function of TurboSite worth the entire purchase price. TuboSite v1.3 adds the ability to export all of the data as a single, compiled PDF report - just by tapping a button.

It's easy to see why this feature is compelling. It's not just fast and efficient; it is immediately more media-rich than what I can do with other software. It generated a report in less than a minute, then took only one more minute to add it to our firm's Dropbox account.

The report was fifty pages long, included a document index, and embedded all photos, videos, notes, and audio clips. The resulting PDF file was 16.5 MB (see figure 5). The report can also be exported as HTML.

Figure 5: Screen capture of the PDF report

New from IMSI/Design: TurboSite plug-ins for Revit and AutoCAD desktop applications

If you use Revit or AutoCAD, then IMSI/Design makes it possible to import the data from the TurboSite TAP files into each CAD package. (It turns out that TAP files are just ZIP package files that contain the drawing and attached data, such as the photographs and video clips.) The GeoMark icons are overlaid within the design application. For the first time, we can see rich media like video presented in a geolocated fashion within these two software programs.

The add-ins are free, and are available on IMSI/Design's TurboApps.com Web site and at Autodesk's Exchange store.

In the case of Revit, the process works like this:

  1. Start by exporting a view (DWG) from Revit that can be used in TurboSite.
  2. After visiting the site, import the TAP file into Revit using the add-in's Open Tab File button.
  3. Finally, use the GeoMark Manager to review the information attached to each GeoMark's information (see figure 6).

Figure 6: GeoMarks viewer and marks visible in Revit

Documentation and Help

Help for TurboSite is in the form of Web-based Wiki-style documentation and is accessed from within the app itself. In addition, IMSI/Design offers free email and phone support.

Separately, IMSI/Design provides on their product Web site information on these topics: Positioning Features, Documenting, Markup, 2D/3D Viewing, Customization, and Reports/File Sharing, Languages. All but two include a video to further explain the functions. See http://www.turboapps.com/TurboApps/TurboSite/Customize/Share/tabid/2320/Default.aspx

Hardware Requirements

TurboSite is only available on iOS mobile devices. There is no PC version. Your iPad must run at least iOS v4.03. IMSI/Design recommends an iPad 2 as the minimum hardware platform, because of its better camera specifications and larger memory space. The Web site indicates Android support is coming, and the firm offers an SDK (software development kit), should programming be of interest to you.

Final Thoughts

I got comfortable with TurboSite's concepts and features quickly. Its features are many and so the more I explored it the more capable it seemed.

TurboSite provides an integrated way to organize our field visit data that isn't matched by other software for completeness or efficiency. The free TurboSite Reader is a good way to test drive most of the functions beforehand but I am confident that you'll be happy after you generate your first report.

What's New in 1.3
Generate PDF Field Reports embeds video, audio and pictures along with markup notes automatically
Import GeoMarks data into Revit and AutoCAD
Works with iPhone (not just iPad)
Missing Xref and Font notification list
Import and Export video, pictures to/from camera roll to GeoMarks
Sensor Positioning System (SPS) improvements to reduce false movement detection
GPS/SPS view-facing direction option orients drawing to current heading
FaceMe annotation makes text, arrows and dimensions always face the current view orientation, even in 3D navigation
Text properties; also, text can be added to markup objects, such as revision cloud, circle, and rectangle
Search and filter GeoMark text
DWF and DWFx file support improved
Memory optimization and bug fixes

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About the Author

Steve Stafford is a Revit consultant and does training and implementation for Revit and Navisworks. He is active in the Revit user community, including helping users in the forums rising to forum manager for the Autodesk User Group International (AUGI) Revit Community. He maintains the Revit OpEd blog. More...

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