Robots, clouds & AI: what is the future of construction?
11 Feb

Robots, clouds & AI: what is the future of construction?

Adam Latham

Well, we made it. Welcome to the ‘20s. It’s a new decade full of new opportunities, so what does that look like for the construction industry over the next 10 years?Construction itself is set to continue its global boom, predicted to grow by 85% to $15.5 trillion globally by the end of the decade. The question, then, is how do we keep up with this rapid growth — and what technology is going to help get us there?

From prefabrication to modularisation

Prefabrication and modularisation are nothing new to the world of construction; it’s common for building components (walls, floors, doors and more) to be manufactured off-site (prefab), or entire buildings constructed elsewhere and dropped into a different, permanent location (modular). 

But more advanced, computerised systems are allowing for greater accuracy, standardisation, and even customisation at lower and lower costs. Even Amazon is jumping on board, partnering with US company Plant Prefab to integrate smart-home features like Amazon Echo in new, ready-to-live-in, prefab homes. 

AI (artificial intelligence)

Artificial Intelligence has the potential to improve the safety, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of construction and development broadly. Take smartvid.io, for example: this technology reduces jobsite risk by using on-site cameras and automatic observations through AI, alerting managers of potential risks and hazards.

One question constantly raised around AI is the risk of intelligent systems replacing human workers. But according to Stefan Hajkowicz, a senior research scientist at Data61, AI will create more jobs than it will replace:

“... we’ll need to transition and upskill the existing workforce. We also need to build trust in AI and ensure it’s developed to safe and ethical standards.”

Cloud technology

If your data isn’t in ‘the cloud’, where is it? Cloud technology has already changed the construction industry for the better, allowing instant reporting of worksite data and sharing information across teams in large (sometimes geographically disparate) projects.

The construction industry is often thought to be slow to embrace change, but a survey by Sage Construction and Real Estate in 2017 found 85% of contractors were using or planning to use cloud-based solutions. 

Another cloud-based solution shaping the future of construction is wearable tech — smartwatches, devices, or sensors — allowing organisations to collect data that can help better manage things like safety, reporting, and operational workflow. 

3D printing

The benefits of 3D printing can be realised well before construction begins, with accurate, detailed structural models helping visualise projects and gauge their viability early on.

“These models help companies test the constructability of a building in advance to make sure that errors and wastage are minimised, thereby reducing the risk of a project going off-budget or off-schedule” — Gurjot Bhatia, CBRE

Not only does 3D printing in construction reduce the natural risk of human error — it also has the potential to reduce energy consumption, noise pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, compared to traditional construction. 

Plus, imagine being on-site and not having the right size pipe or breaking a particular drill bit, only to generate exactly what you need in seconds using a 3D printer. The future is bright!

Robotics

Reducing workplace injuries is a huge reason to welcome the use of construction robotics, as robots are being used to perform repetitive tasks that are known to cause strain on humans, or to assist them with tasks like loading and placing heavy materials. 

In addition to taking over these repetitive, manual tasks, robotics is also being utilised in construction project management. Companies like DroneDeploy use drone technology to take aerial photos, maps, and models, using this real-time data to keep projects on schedule and on budget. 

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The future of construction is exciting as we continue to embrace cutting-edge technology, finding new ways to improve safety, efficiency, cost and management.

But with all this progress, is there any risk of future construction jobs becoming obsolete? 

According to Martin Loosemore, professor of construction management at the University of New South Wales, the challenge for us in Australia is to shape the future of construction rather than let it shape us. 

While robotics and AI can displace and change the nature of certain jobs, it’s important to control the technology we bring into our industries — and not let it control us.

Adam Latham

Adam Latham is the Sales Manager extraordinaire at Latham Australia. His technical knowledge, specifically with regards to Control Joints and Safety Flooring is second to none. When he's not working with clients & presenting across Australia, Oceania, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, he's based at Latham Headquarters in Gladesville Sydney.

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