How AI is Changing the Construction Industry

Professor Peter Debney

Professor Peter Debney Application Specialist at Oasys

Friday, May 4, 2018

As the world becomes more advanced with technology, we’re seeing industries across the globe become more efficient — including the more hands-on construction sector.

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Artificial intelligence (AI) describes machines that exhibit their own intelligence through algorithms to solve problems using inputted data. By harnessing robotics, construction managers can utilize intelligent machines that can perform routine tasks that were once completed by humans, such as bricklaying. Alternatively, AI systems can collate and organize information for engineers to use within project planning and design implementation.

Together with Oasys, specialists in building design software, we assess the way the construction industry is starting to use AI in order to complete projects that contain fewer errors, less omissions, safer working practices, improved workflows, and more on-time worksite completions.          

AI: Four Stages of a Construction Project

There are many ways that we can use artificial intelligence within the construction sector, but which areas of the project are most effective?

1. Mastering a plan

AI is commonly used in the planning stage of a construction project. Autonomous equipment is aware of its surroundings and is capable of navigation without human input. In the planning stages, AI machinery can survey a proposed construction site and gather enough information to create 3D maps, blueprints and construction plans.

This was a task that was once completed by physical workers, but with artificial intelligence, it can be completed more efficiently in a shorter time period. This helps to save firms both time and money in the form of labor.

2. Managing a task

AI also has the ability to incorporate any changes in a project, and can manage tasks accordingly with any updates that occur. For example, workers can input sick days, vacancies and sudden departures into a data system and it will adapt the project accordingly. The AI will understand that the task must be moved to another employee and will do so of its own accord.

3. AI assistance

During the construction process, AI will be able to assist engineers on the job. For example, if engineers were working on a proposed new bridge, AI systems would be able to advise and present a case for how the bridge should be constructed. This is based on past projects over the last 50 years, as well as verifying pre-existing blueprints for the design and implementation stages of the project. By having this information to hand, engineers can make crucial decisions based on evidence that they may not have previously had at their disposal.

Working at heights on a construction site can be challenging, but with autonomous machinery being introduced, workers can now be outside of the vehicle whilst completing the task; using sensors and GPS, the vehicle can calculate the safest route on its own.

4. Then end of a project

Many misconceptions are that AI can only be used on the exterior of a construction project, but it can in fact be implemented inside. In the US alone, $1.5 billion was invested in 2016 by companies looking to capitalize on this growing market.

Wynn Las Vegas hotel has taken one step forward and is starting to introduce Amazon Echo devices in every room — enhancing the consumer’s experience. These devices can be used to control different aspects of the room such as lighting, temperature and audio-visual equipment.

Stored information

Building Information Modelling (BIM) allows site owners to access any information regarding the construction— from managerial notes to changes that were made — without the need to leaf through endless reams of paperwork. Not only is this quicker, it keeps a more accurate record and limits confusion caused by various changes in the project.

The use of virtual assistants (VA) allows those on site to quickly and easily access any information they may need. By using this technology alongside NFC (near-field communication), VAs can be given additional information to the building itself in real-time from various sensors in the building. For example, if there were structural problems with a building, then VAs could inform engineers specifically where the problem was and how it can be fixed.

Maintaining this level of efficiency using virtual assistants in comparison to manual labor will help organizations save on costs and time, whilst also helping them to avoid making mistakes. As the future of AI becomes more of a reality within construction, only time will tell how reliant upon intelligent machines we will have to be in order to construct innovative building designs.

Author: Professor Peter Debney is a chartered engineer with over 30 years of engineering experience. He is a Member of the Institute of Structural Engineers and a Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor at Bradford University, where he teaches design and computational engineering. Peter is the application specialist for the pedestrian and structural programs at Oasys, the software house of Arup. Peter has particular interests in nonlinear analysis, optimisation, and artificial intelligence applications.

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