We are familiar with the concept of AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning) as applied to robotics, often in a “coming in the future” format. But the future is coming sooner than expected if companies like Volvo have a say. And an enabler will be the growth of 5G communications.

The Volvo Construction Equipment division has demonstrated a fully autonomous, battery-electric prototype, the LX03, of what they claim is the first real-world example of a self-learning concept wheel loader with the brains to make decisions, perform tasks, and interact with humans. It is also the first time ever a LEGO Technic model has been turned into a real machine. While not commercially available, engineers expect that valuable insights from the LX03 will feed into applications for today and tomorrow.

On Aug. 10, 2021, the U.S. Senate voted 69-30 to pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684), bipartisan legislation to invest in the nation’s infrastructure, including funding for roads and bridges, rail, transit, ports, airports, electric grid, water systems, broadband, and other priorities. The legislation provides $944 billion in total spending over five years, totaling $550 billion in new spending.

“Some assembly required” is a scary phrase when you buy a toy for a kid at the holidays. IKEA has made a reputation from “assemble it yourself.” That approach is even growing in popularity among builders as modular buildings, composed of off-site fabricated panels that can be assembled into affordable housing, are being considered as part of the expansion program in many cities and towns.

While modular construction has been successful for single-family residential, multifamily builds are found in fewer locations. Now, Modulous, a U.K.-developed scalable platform for housing development—combining design software, a proprietary kit of parts, and a world-class supplier network to reduce the risks and time required to build high-quality, multifamily housing—is establishing a facility in the Seattle area.

The world is beginning to recognize that autonomous vehicles have the potential to reduce thousands of traffic accidents caused by human error, cut the number of hours commuters spend stuck in traffic, and improve transportation across many sectors: personal, business, industrial, commercial, and public mobility.

  

Autonomous vehicles require a lot of data and connectivity to operate safely. Onboard sensors and offboard streams of data will be needed, continuously, for the highway of the future to support the vehicles of the future. For example, the Michigan Connected and Automated Vehicle Corridor Project seeks to push the use of (CAVs (connected and autonomous vehicles) and supporting infrastructure as a practical model for safe, efficient, and adaptable mobility options.

“You gotta make the morning last.” When Simon and Garfunkel sang the 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) in 1966, the average speed limit on major highways, like the new Interstate system, was 55. Today, many areas have that and higher limits on surface streets. And drivers ignore the limit and go even faster on streets and highways.

Workers along those roads are in danger and safety must be a top-of-the-line concern. Work zone crashes are defined as taking place within the boundaries of a work zone or on an approach to or exit from a work zone due to activities, behaviors, or controls related to traffic moving through the boundaries of a work zone.  The National Safety Council reports that, in 2019, the last year where final figures are available, 842 people were killed and 39,100 people were injured in highway work zone crashes. Of the 842 fatalities 479 were in construction zones, 42 were in maintenance zones, and 14 were in a utility zone. Since 2010, work zone deaths have increased 44%.

The old cliché about a chain’s weakest link is being updated as the supply chain for construction materials, among many other items, is riddled with weak links, leading to a massive breakdown. From ships at sea, unable to unload due to bottlenecks in receiving ports, to needed materials unable to cross borders due to tariffs, the supply chain is looking more broken every day.

But the companies and executive who depend on those materials are reacting in different ways. The latest issue of the Civil Quarterly from Dodge Data & Analytics addresses the dramatic increase in supply chain challenges faced by civil contractors but finds that, even so, contractors remain optimistic about the state of their industry in the near future.

Even before the infamous infrastructure bills before Congress get voted up or down, projects are under way. Pittsburgh’s airport of the future, for example, has officially begun. Officials broke ground on a new 700,000-sq.ft. terminal project, making Pittsburgh International Airport the first terminal in the country to be built from the ground up in a post-pandemic world.

The new terminal and multi-modal transportation complex together make up the airport’s $1.4 billion Terminal Modernization Program. The multi-modal complex includes a new 3,300-space parking garage, rental car facilities and entrance roadways. The new terminal will consolidate operations, including ticketing, security checkpoints, and baggage claim. Specifically, its single terminal design reduces passenger travel time by 50% to get from the curb to airside.

Universities and colleges are often dependent on the philanthropy of alumni for major construction and renovation projects. Tuition and government funding can only go so far, and the academic and lifestyle aspects of campus can benefit from fundraising and donations. In Virginia, Longwood University has been lucky to have several alumni who can contribute.

 

The Joan Perry Brock Center at Longwood University will be a 72,000-sq.ft., 3,020-seat arena and convocation center accommodating the men’s and women’s varsity basketball teams as well as other university programs. Joan Perry Brock herself, an alumnus from the Class of 1964, donated $15 million to the school, the largest gift in the university’s history.

Construction requires land, plans, and material. Architects have been able to work, in office and remotely, during the COVID-19 pandemic so plans are available for a variety of buildings, commercial, industrial, academic, and residential. Land in some areas has been in short supply as have the myriad of materials needed to construct the structures in demand. Some of that is slowly returning to normal and builders and developers are once again starting and planning new projects.

In Minneapolis, Hines, along with partners AFL-CIO Building Investment Trust and Marquee Development, is starting the start of construction on North Loop Green, a new mixed-use development. The project will feature 350,000-sq.ft. of next generation office space, 350 residential units, 100 hospitality units, and 17,000-sq.ft. of premier food and retail offerings.

Motivational speakers, driving their audience to a fear pitch, will often tell them they are warriors for the cause. The image of fierce warriors is often raised by military groups—think Marines in boot camp—and can be a great moral booster in that environment. Apparently, that ethos can also be translated for use in construction.

Conti Federal Services, a construction and engineering firm specializing in complex critical infrastructure, disaster response and recovery, and environmental remediation projects, uses an in-house developed management tool called Warrior Lean to deliver projects on-time and on-budget.

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