When we think of Artificial Intelligence, people generally think of robots and other images in science fiction movies. However, artificial intelligence is not part of some distant future. Many people, maybe even yourself, use artificial intelligence on a daily basis. Artificial intelligence powers digital assistants such as Siri and Alexa to conduct tasks. Similarly, artificial intelligence is beginning to make its way into construction. In the future of construction, artificial intelligence will play a larger role in terms of improving productivity, quality, and safety on the jobsite.
What is artificial intelligence?
Let’s take it back a few steps and provide you with a definition of artificial intelligence. The amount of information that the human mind can process is limited by time and space. However, artificial intelligence captures large amounts of data and analyzes the information for patterns and trends. In essence, artificial intelligence uses the power of machines to model natural intelligence of humans. It uses the machine learning to solve problems and execute tasks with greater speed and accuracy.
How can we leverage Artificial Intelligence in construction?
The adoption of technology in the construction jobsite it happening. Sure, its happening slowly. However the good news is that the adoption is catching on. Thanks to cloud-based applications and mobile devices, the amount of data that is captured (jobsite photos, materials used, labor hours, equipment utilization etc) on a jobsite has grown exponentially over the past 10 years. The value of this information is to do deeper analysis, trending, what-if scenarios to make projects and companies more profitable.
Artificial intelligence provides hidden insights into data that humans cannot process or will take too long. Activities that hamper construction can now use artificial intelligence to make improvements in productivity, safety, quality, and scheduling.
Artificial Intelligence in Construction Happening Now
If we look at Artificial Intelligence in the simplest level of using machine learning to solve problems and execute tasks with greater speed and accuracy, then artificial intelligence in construction is happening now.
Field reporting software allows foremen to enter (either by manually typing or using voice-to-text) jobsite activity or issues. Systems can be configured to provide alerts and notifications on certain keywords. If a foreman says “delay” or “safety” this can trigger an alert to notify the project manager or safety manager of any potential issues. These alerts keep important project stakeholders informed in real-time even if they are not on the jobsite.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
OCR as artificial intelligence is easy to take for granted because it is inherent part of one’s daily life in construction. Because of OCR technology, users can quickly search drawings we can convert documents and images into editable and searchable data. Many drawing applications rely on OCR to scan drawings, automatically name and number sheets, and hyperlink related sheets together. This saves hours in manually processing drawings for viewing, markups and sharing.
Emerging Trends of Artificial Intelligence in Construction
The internet of things has automated our home to make our home more energy efficient. Similarly, the internet of things is automating our jobsites to make them safer. Wearable sensors such as Spot-r identify the location of your workers and provide any alerts if a worker slips or falls.
Deploying drones and drone mapping software such as DroneDeploy drastically cuts down the time to gather accurate surveys maps and aerial images of a jobsite. This can be used to track progress without having to be on the jobsite. Additionally the aerial images provide project managers with an additional perspective to identify issues and conflicts they may not view from the ground.
Major tech companies and car manufacturers are developing self-driving vehicles. While Uber and Google conduct pilot projects of self-driving cars, Caterpillar has released a line of autonomous mining equipment used for dozing, drilling and hauling.
Following autonomous vehicles, robots have started to infiltrate our home (hello Roomba) and the construction site. While robots have not quite made it on the jobsite, Fastbrick Robotics has developed Hadrian X, a bricklaying robot that can build a residential house in 2 days.
Artificial Intelligence in the Future of Construction
Artificial intelligence provides tremendous benefits to improving the productivity in construction. While the construction industry grapples with a labor shortage and declining productivity, artificial intelligence helps to fill in the gaps. However, artificial intelligence is not an exact science and model of natural human intelligence. So artificial intelligence serves to assist humans and not replace them especially in construction where every project is unique and subject to many external factors and moving parts (weather, other trades, etc).
An additional limiting factor to adoption of artificial intelligence will be the cost. Using autonomous vehicles and robotics may increase the output that individual workers can provide, but it will do so at a large cost. The capital investment of the equipment along with the additional expertise to manage the equipment will represent a large upfront investment on companies. Something that may not be viable for many companies in an industry that spends only 1% of revenue on technology.
Artificial intelligence in construction is on the rise. Similar to other technology advances, those that are ready to take the leap will have an edge over their competition.