Artificial intelligence could have a big impact on constructionOften, the concept of AI (artificial intelligence) and robotics are combined into one futuristic notion of how advanced intelligence and technology will impact business. However, the concepts—each very different in nature—serve a specific purpose on construction jobsites today and will only expand in the future.

How will artificial intelligence impact the construction industry? It is important to identify where we have been and where we are going with regards to artificial intelligence in construction.

Dan Kara, research director, robotics, ABI Research, says many consider robotics to be a subset of artificial intelligence—but it is not.

“Robotics systems, those technologies that sense, think and then act in the physical world, can make use of artificial intelligence techniques such as machine learning for the ‘thinking’ component, but it is not a necessity,” he explains. “In fact, most of the robotics systems in operation today do not. That will change, of course.”

So where does this leave the construction industry today? How will this impact the jobsite in the future? Answering these questions is key.

The Basics of AI

At its core, Kara says, robotics are becoming more common on jobsites for applications such as bricklaying, concrete dispensing, welding, demolition, and more.

This trend is seen in numerous analyst reports as well, as organizations such as Technavio are forecasting that increased R&D spending will boost global robotics.

In addition, as these robots and robotics technologies become more autonomous and intelligent through the use of AI techniques, they will be used in a growing number of new construction applications, continues Kara.

Digging into this a bit deeper, the construction industry is set to benefit in two distinct ways. The first is that AI will support many of the functions common to all business, such as human resources. Second, AI can help with business management to determine demand forecasting and scheduling.

Looking specifically at the construction industry, AI techniques can be used to optimize development and quality control testing of products and design structures.

“Currently, the use of AI on jobsites is limited,” explains Kara. “But it is growing, particularly in applications involving machine vision for surveying and analyzing materials and structures, or for robotics applications such as automated bricklaying or autonomous vehicles.”

He says research is currently being conducted for ways to leverage AI to predict injuries, improve human-machine interfaces for construction equipment, and for architectural surveying.

Carol Hagen of Hagen Business Solutions, adds that AI has the potential to catapult the construction industry by merely capturing every human experience from design to delivery.

Essentially, deducing from the past can help predict the future and gain knowledge across industries along the way.

AI Is Knowledge

When it comes to the construction industry, AI has the potential to help reimagine how processes are done—such as BIM (building information modeling).

Hagen says AI will identify true collisions versus false ones in BIM. “For new building design, AI will identify missing elements like waterproofing for specs for stadiums.”

Additionally, lessons learned will not be missed across corporate project teams, as tribal knowledge will become AI knowledge, she explains. Such knowledge is contained in daily reports, schedules, weather forecasts, daily project progress, and more.

“This AI knowledge will be proactive, prompting questions, and interacting with both voice and visuals, like a living book of knowledge,” she explains.

Taking it a step further, robots using this knowledge will then fetch tools and know where they are.

The challenge with leveraging AI on the construction jobsite today is anything that moves becomes a data collection device, and the more data the better the accuracy. Hagen says small-to-mid-sized firms will not have enough data scale to compete, unless the industry has a shared database.

“This is likely to occur for government projects and within large-scale equipment suppliers, but private sector advantages will go to the largest AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) firms who go all in on AI,” she says.

The benefits of such technology include fewer errors and omissions, safer jobsites, improved workflows, and more on-time completions.

So how soon will AI and robotics emerge on the construction jobsite?

Hagen says true AI is further out than fully autonomous cars, but many early adopters are already working diligently on data collection and wearable devices.

This is reinforced by the fact that AI is mostly deductive, she explains, and that algorithms that drive AI, like smart buildings, will not repair or build themselves. Rather, they will notify a human there’s a problem and often, how to fix it.

This is here today.

Kara of ABI Research adds, AI can replicate the judgments, decisions, and actions of humans without getting fatigued. Also, the “intelligence” is additive, and becomes more efficient and accurate over time.

The challenge—particularly in the construction industry—is jobsites are very different from the majority of work places in that most of the work takes place outside in highly unstructured environments, he explains.

“Currently much of the commercially available AI and machine-learning applications are focused in industries … where the operational domain is similar—indoor and highly structured environments,” he says.

However, the benefits of AI are huge. The safety element, in particular, could drive the need for AI and robotics in construction in the months ahead.

“There is nothing mysterious or magical about AI,” Kara says. “We are largely discussing classes of software techniques (algorithms), products, and services—some of which are new, while others have been in existence for a considerable amount of time—aided by increasing levels of computing power, and often made available through cloud-based, highly optimized distributed services.”

While challenges to leveraging AI in the construction industry remain, the opportunities of such technology are huge—and will provide value both today and into the future.

Learn More about Construction Innovations

Emerging technologies for the jobsite of the future; innovative wearables to enhance health, safety and productivity; cutting-edge skills for careers of the future; and new materials to enhance our nation’s infrastructure are just a few of the things attendees to the Tech Experience at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017 might experience as they step into the future of the construction industry.

Located in Silver Lot 3 outside the Las Vegas Convention Center, the new 75,000-square foot Tech Experience will be dedicated entirely to presenting new construction innovations and emerging technologies that will drive change and process improvement across the industry.

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