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CONTROL AND INQUIRY SYSTEM FOR
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
 The present invention relates to a control and inquiry system, and more specifically to a control and inquiry system for handling construction project information on dwelling houses and other types of buildings.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
 The manner in which a building is constructed is somewhat unique, irrespective of whether the building is newly constructed, added to or remodeled. Consequently, when the construction work has been completed, it is often difficult to determine whether the respective work stages were completed properly. While the control of such construction work has sometimes been carried out partially using a computer, such control has been carried out only for the benefit of the constructor, for example, the home builder (e.g., a general contractor) and the information has rarely been offered to a client (e.g., a homebuyer). Even when offered to the client, such information has often been incomplete and has contained many technical terms often too difficult to be understood by the client.
 Additionally, unlike the site superintendent, it is practically impossible for the client to observe the entire construction process. While it has been possible for the client to attend one or more important work stages, it has usually been difficult for the client to attend each individual work stage. This is, at least in part, because the construction process rarely follows an initial work schedule. Accordingly, even if the client prearranges a date of attendance at the construction site, on the basis of the initial schedule, the schedule is often changed before the date of attendance. Furthermore, the general contractor often fails to inform the client of schedule changes.
 In view of the present situation, the client is typically left with entrusting the constructor with the work and even if the client discovers a defect, various barriers, including communication barriers, prevent the client from resolving the problem. Further, controlling the work progress has conventionally also been difficult for the constructor (e.g., the general contractor) since the actual work progress has typically been left to visual inspection and judgment by a site superintendent.
 Upon completion, many of the essential parts constituting a building, such as a dwelling house, cannot be checked or inspected unless the building is partially destroyed. It is also difficult for the constructor to record the inspection results, together with the relevant image data or the like, and to store them in a computer so that such information may be readable in a random access fashion.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
 The present invention is directed to a control and inquiry system for handling construction project information that is related to the construction of a building. The construction project information includes content information, work schedule information, work progress information and change order information. The system includes a control and inquiry computer system, a home builder computer system
and a client computer system that are each coupled to a computer network. The control and inquiry computer system stores construction project information and executes control and inquiry code causing the control and inquiry computer system to perform a number of steps. Initially, the control and inquiry computer system receives content information that is related to the design of the building from the home builder computer system. Next, the control and inquiry computer system receives work schedule information that indicates a projected schedule as to when various construction stages of the building are to be completed from the home builder computer system. Then, work progress information that indicates the actual progress of the building is received. Next, change order information, which is directed to changes in the design of the building, are received. Finally, the construction project information is provided to an authorized party when requested.
 These and other features, advantages and objects of the present invention will be further understood and appreciated by those skilled in the art by reference to the following specification, claims, and appended drawings.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS  In the drawings:
 FIG. 1A is a block diagram of an exemplary computer network; and
 FIGS. 1B-7 are diagrams illustrating information flow from/to an exemplary control and inquiry system.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE
 The present invention is directed to a control and inquiry system S for monitoring the progress of construction work. The system S stores various kinds of construction project information and is adapted to be used in a computer environment supported by a network, such as the Internet. The construction project information typically includes content, work schedule, work progress and change information and may include liaison information relating to communication with a client. The system S maintains the information, under a time control, and is available to the home builder (e.g., the general contractor) and the client (e.g., the homebuyer), when desired. Further, the system S can store occasional information including wishes, claims, agreements and communications from the client, under a time control, and make such information available to the home builder and the client, as desired.
 The system S, according to the invention, prompts the home builder to input thereto and to store therein the fundamental information relating to content and work stages. Then, the system S prompts the home builder to input day-by day and hour-by-hour work progress. As occasion demands, the system S prompts the home builder to input information relating to a change in the work program, the work content or the like, as well as the liaison information for communication with the client. This information is stored in the system S, under a time control, so as to be available to the constructor, as well as to the client, in random access fashion. In this way, the system S relieves the home builder from the task of accumulating the work schedule, the work progress information, the claims from the
client or the like in his/her own computer. More specifically, the home builder can read and store the respective kinds of information merely by accessing the system S, according to the invention, while the client can confirm desired information, such as the work schedule and the work progress input by the home builder, via the network, instead of directly attending the work-site. When any question arises or any defect is discovered, the client can notify the home builder to, for example, make a desired repair.
 The stored information may include fundamental information, work progress information, change information, liaison information and the like, which are offered so as to be available to a third person when the work is open to the general public (e.g., construction of tract houses). However, once the negotiation of a sales contract has begun, the information is preferably, only available to an authorized person specified by ID number, password, voiceprint, cryptograph software or the like. In this way, the home builder can provide information on available dwelling houses to the general public to improve sales. Further, a client can be informed of the work contents, as has conventionally been impossible, and thereby enter the sales contract with less anxiety. Once negotiation of the sales contract has been entered, the availability of the information offered can be limited, when desired, by ID information. Thus, privacy as well as security of the client can be maintained.
 A standard schedule forms the basis for the fundamental information that is offered to the home builder. The fundamental information may also include the change information relating to a change made by the home builder in the standard schedule, reason for such change and a comparison between the initial standard schedule and the changed schedule. In this way, characteristics (e.g., quality) of a particular building can be documented and made available to the home builder and the client for future use.
 The fundamental information may include profiles of the home builder, a site superintendent, subcontractors and collaborating companies for each work stage, including their images. In this way, the relationship between a home builder and client may be enhanced and misunderstandings reduced.
 The operation of inputting the work progress information into the system S in accordance with the work schedule is, preferably, fulfilled merely by checking work items on the entire work schedule to be carried out on a given day, providing the work progresses in accordance with the work program. In this manner, the operation of inputting the work progress by the site superintendent or the like can be sped up and simplified.
 Preferably, the site superintendent transmits the actual work progress each day, via his/her own personal computer or the like. If the site superintendent fails to update the work schedule, on a scheduled workday, the system S preferably sends out a warning to a portable telephone or the like of the site superintendent and/or to the home builder advising of the oversight.
 According to the invention, the site superintendent also receives the work program for each day via his or her own personal computer or the like so that the site superintendent can confirm the schedule every morning. Additionally, both the home builder and the client can confirm the
actual work progress and the work schedule on that day on the basis of the work progress having been confirmed on the previous day. The work progress information may include inspection results inclusive of photo, dynamic image or the like obtained from checking each item for each stage and each content.
 According to the invention, completion of each work stage can be reliably confirmed from the inspection results which can include still images, dynamic images or the like obtained from checking each item at each stage and each work content contained in the work progress information. Data contained in the inspection results for each item for each stage allow the home builder or the site superintendent to evaluate the work. For current or future defects, such data is useful to analyze components, which are difficult to inspect after work completion (e.g., components concealed within walls).
 The work progress information reporting completion of each work stage preferably includes a plurality of separate stage completion information including image data supporting an identity of the information contents reported by at least two of the site superintendent, the subcontractors and the like, which increases the reliability of the completion information on each work stage.
 Preferably, the system S instructs payment to a subcontractor after confirming that a work stage for which the subcontractor was responsible has been completed. According to the invention, confirmation that each work stage contained in the work progress information has been completed may be related to instruction of payment to the relevant subcontractor to promote completion of the work stage and thereby to assure such payment upon work stage completion. Preferably, the system S is unable to instruct commencement of a future work stage, when a previous essential work stage is not complete.
 The information transmitted to the personal computer or the like or the portable telephone of the home builder or the client is, preferably, readable in the form of image data comprising photo, dynamic image, sound or the like. In a preferred embodiment, the respective kinds of information are accompanied with readout confirming means by which the home builder or the client may confirm that the respective kinds of information were readout, which allows effective use of the system S and thereby promotes smooth work progress.
 Preferably, the system S gives a warning in the form of sounds, oscillation and/or light emission to the personal computer or the portable telephone of the home builder, the site superintendent, the subcontractor or the client and thereby prompts them to input the work progress information, the liaison information or the occasional information if input of any one of these kinds of information is delayed.
 The system S is adapted to communicate with the networked personal computer or the portable telephone designated by the client, if the client has previously notified the system S of his or her absence. According to the invention, when absent from home, the client can receive the work progress at any place. When the work progress information indicates a delay with respect to the work schedule, the system S is adapted to give the home builder a warning