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Technology 2017: What’s Hot and What it Means for Construction


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Artificial intelligence, augmented reality, hard-baked tablets, and sensors, are already actively at play in construction, or in the background. Here’s what it’s all about, and what’s in store as adoption heats up.

Making Sense of Artificial Intelligence

It’s difficult to describe artificial intelligence since there are so many definitions. John McCarthy came up with the phrase in 1955, defining it as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.” In 2003, Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig said it was “the study and design of intelligent agents, where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions which maximizes its chances of success.“ A year later, Ben Coppin went for the simpler, “systems that act in a way that to any observer would appear to be intelligent.“

Even though the door is wide open for what passes as AI, there’s little doubt about where construction is deploying it. Komatsu has a system that does site surveys using drones. It then compares the aerial survey to the plans supplied to the contractor. From there, the system can exactly account for the work needed and prepare the plans. Next, autonomous machines follow the plans to do the needed cuts, fills and trenching.

There is also a continual buildup of expert systems underway. Working with structural designs that go back  half a century, these systems can suggest, review and verify designs. You can also see AI in aspects of  building information modeling, and modern scheduling programs. And, as smart buildings collect and analyze information from multiple sensors they help keep the finished structures safer, more efficient and healthier.

Most observers agree that AI used with machines, software and information platforms is going to disrupt construction like nothing that has come before. For example, according to Accenture, AI will take over scheduling, allocating resources and reporting. It will augment what people do so that people can spend their time on tasks requiring judgement, collaboration, creativity and innovation. The effect is that people will be freed from the mundane. People will however need a great deal of training to learn new skills and new ways of working. Many will also need training in how to adapt to change.

Augmented Reality for Real

The financial news source, Financial Buzz, described augmented and virtual realities as poised for rapid adoption in both consumer and commercial applications. Industrial use accounted for 25% of the AR market in 2015, putting construction in the crosshairs for greater AR adoption in the near term. Already, construction firms use AR for training and helping workers see the expected results of what they are about to build. Owners and clients are participating in design using virtual walkthroughs.

A recently announced partnership between Vuzix Corp. and Toshiba Corp. is aimed at rapidly developing a customized pair of smart glasses. Toshiba has a big footprint in enterprise and industrial markets. Microsoft is skipping the second generation phase of its HoloLens product, opting instead to go directly to a third gen release that will have productivity, business process, intelligent cloud and personal computing features.

Next steps for AR include verifying design in the field, putting crews virtually inside life sized building models, and providing 3D as-builts in real space and time.

What’s More Cool than Ruggedized Tablets

Taking advantage of virtual reality and AR in the field gets a bit easier and less costly in the long run when using tough hardware. Expect to see a continuing roll out of ruggedized tablets. Juniper Systems now offers a tablet designed for extreme conditions running Windows 10 and Android. The company says it can handle BIM, and when used with the dock it becomes a complete office computing solution. Another model tablet offered by the company is waterproof and dustproof, with a super bright display and an all day battery.

Just available in March is the Algiz 8X from handheld. It offers LTE and dual-band WLAN for communications. The 8-inch projective capacitive touchscreen is easy to view outdoors. When you use glove mode or rain mode the unit is more useful in cold and wet environments. It has chemically treated glass that survives the dropping of a 64-gram steel ball from 1.2 meters, 10 times. These units have an optional active capacitive stylus, and are standard with Windows 10 Enterprise LTSB. They are also rated under the IP65 standard for dust and water ingression, and they meet MIL-STD-810G.

Sensors for Everything

The internet of connected things continues to proliferate, and construction is on the front lines. From building sensors that record, monitor and adjust systems, to equipment telematics, the footprint of sensors is projected to grow exponentially.

Now, beacons are beginning to show up to handle location and context awareness for all those sensors. These units have 4-year battery lives, and they interact with a wide range of mobile apps. Also on the horizon are wearable devices that monitor personal safety, real-time tracking of materials and components, sensors for monitoring precast beams and bridges, and total construction site monitoring for temperature, humidity, dust, pressure, noise, volatile organic compounds.

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