Science and science fiction often compete for the minds of the general population. The term “robot,” for example, can conjure up many different images, depending on the experience and movie going history of the listener. Engineers might imagine a machine doing repetitive work that bores humans while labor union leaders would see the same image as taking away jobs. Robotic designers have been seeking ways to make robots less threatening and more productive for generations, going so far as adding human features and voice to what amounts to a guided vehicle delivering food to patients in a hospital.
Cameras are being used in a myriad of ways in construction. Monitoring work progress on the jobsite and flying high over a tract to survey a new project are just a few. Fleet owners, with both truck and heavy equipment, are adopting cameras to survey the operation of the equipment and monitor operator behavior to prevent accidents and provide evidence in case of accidents.
It’s not only construction companies that can be liable for operator error and incidents caused by others. Companies across the commercial transportation industry, from long-haul trucking to field services to passenger transit, are at risk for high-cost incidents on the road, such as sideswiping and back-up collisions.
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.
The application of digital technology—computers, smart phones, Internet of Things, the cloud, etc.—has had a great impact on construction over the past decade. This digitalization has even spawned a term: Construction 4.0. But it has also generated a degree of concern that too much reliance on technology is a bad thing.
Then came COVID-19. And the growing emphasis on sustainability and environmental issues. And disruption of the supply chain due to tariffs and shortages of the basic material needed for building.
We are constantly reminded of the importance of the cloud in contemporary computing. This is especially important in construction because many processes in construction are fragmented, resulting in lost productivity, rework, and a lack of transparency. The construction industry lags behind many others with only 1% productivity growth over the last 20 years. This is significantly lower than the 2.8% experienced for the total economy.
One of the significant emerging disruptions that will drive change in construction is the digitization of products and processes. The ability to link technologies, tasks, processes, and multiple stakeholders—such as general contractors, subcontractors, designers, engineers, and owners—across the construction project workflow can transform and significantly improve productivity, quality, safety, transparency, and sustainability.
Construction companies have become aware of and concerned about the potential attacks—digital, physical, and natural—on infrastructure, especially utilities, both while they are under construction and while operating. If you are responsible for the security of the site before, during or after construction, that can weigh heavily on your decisions.
In the early days of consumer computing, once the monster was let out of the academic cage and allowed to roam free in homes, offices, and factories, there was a flurry of companies that became known as the TLA group: three letter acronyms. IBM and DEC were the leaders but SUN (actually Sun Microsystems, but usually known as just SUN) was also part of the club.
Today, TLA most often stands for two letter acronyms: AI, (artificial intelligence), ML (machine learning), AR (augmented reality), VR, (virtual reality), and several others. Shorthand for some of the more advanced technologies, these TLAs are growing together into a coalition of confusion. What are they? How do they interact?
The AI (artificial intelligence) market has been growing in value across industries as software developers find ways to incorporate it into their offerings. What AI can do to benefit construction has been a concern for decades and one answer is now available: automating estimating and takeoffs.
A startup in Florida, Togal.ai, has applied AI to estimating and recently concluded beta testing among several general contractors. In reports on the tests, a contractor explained that Togal.ai found a way to automate take-offs in a way that will allow teams to focus on scoping, pricing and value engineering.
RADAR (radio detection and ranging) improved the safety of flying; LiDAR (light detection and ranging) has the potential to increase the safety of autonomous vehicles among other things that move. It also has potential for opening up many new applications for construction and for use in developing the smart city concept.