Technology is changing the world. Almost every single thing we touch on a daily basis has been influenced by technology. Our cell phones, the tiny computers we keep in our pockets, have 100,000 times the speed of an early personal computer.
Our homes are “smart.” If someone rings our doorbell, we can see and talk to them from our desk at work. We can tell Alexa or Google Home to play music without lifting a finger, and we’ll have access to millions of songs.
We’re getting to the point where soon we won't even have to drive our cars anymore. Driverless cars aren’t a matter of “if” anymore, but a matter of “when.” We’re already started to phase out the need for gasoline, with countries and companies alike pledging to commit to electric vehicles, phasing out the demand for fossil fuels.
Machines are predicted to take 800 million jobs by 2030. What people will do after machines have those jobs is another story for another article.
There is one industry in particular that’s known for its hard work, sweat, and manual labor. Working from sun up to sun down, getting dirty, getting tired, but getting the job done. When you picture the construction industry, I bet you don’t imagine a computer or any type of technology. I bet the first thing that pops into your head is a rugged construction worker wearing a construction hat, holding a hammer, covered in dust and dirt with a 5 o’clock shadow. There’s nothing technological about that.
But cutting edge technology has indeed been used in the construction industry for many years, particularly in the design phase (using models prior to construction for locating conflicts is an industry standard)
Now the construction industry is embracing new, revolutionary technologies in the building side of things as well. Considered as the “final frontier” for technological breakthroughs, construction companies are joining the rest of the world in the new age of technology. And as an industry that added 282,000 new jobs just last year, there will be plenty of people to use the technology.
In this article, we’ll break down how technology is shaping construction, and what we can expect moving forward.
Autodesk Hops On The Construction Bandwagon
Autodesk calls itself the software company for people who make things. Sounds like a perfect fit for construction companies, right? Autodesk makes software that enables people to create everything from cars to houses to cities to your favorite summer blockbusters.
But that’s just the beginning.
They also make the technology that can talk to robots, 3D print the latest fashions, and even fold DNA. They claim to make the software for “tomorrow.”
Lately, they’ve been pushing the construction industry to come into tomorrow with them. Recently, they purchased a company called PlanGrid for a cool $875 million. At its core, PlanGrid helps people work together. It helps general contractors, subcontractors, and owners in commercial, heavy civil and other industries collaborate in real time on projects.
It gives users access to project plans, checklists, tasks, progress photos, daily field reports, submittals, and a laundry list of other features. It has helped over 12,000 people complete more than one million construction projects.
And because one company wasn’t enough, Autodesk also purchased another construction software platform called BuildingConnected for the comparatively low price of $275 million. BuildingConnected will give Autodesk a network of 700,000 construction-related professionals that help real estate companies and construction firms find qualified workers and manage the bidding process.
Like PlanGrid, which took paper plan books and digitized them for construction sites, BuildingConnected modernizes the planning and management part of the construction process. Before BuildingConnected, companies managed their construction projects with complex Excel spreadsheets. BuildingConnected offers a much more simplified version to manage your projects and improve communication between project participants.
The acquisitions will help Autodesk expand its presence in the construction industry, which represents a $12 trillion market opportunity. Autodesk plans to integrate PlanGrid and BuildingConnected with its existing software Autodesk Revit and Autodesk BIM 360 construction management platform.
The Rise Of The Humanoid
With the rise in technology comes an increase in efficiency. Efficiency comes in a variety of forms. Sometimes it’s a new app or a streamlined system. Sometimes it comes in the form of a humanoid. That’s right, a humanoid.
The dictionary defines a humanoid as having human characteristics or form; resembling human beings. In this case, the humanoids are robots, and they’re being used to help with construction.
Japan’s Advanced Industrial Science and Technology have built what they are calling the “HRP-5P”, a humanoid bot that can handle a variety of construction tasks when there’s a shortage of staff or there are serious hazards.
The HRP-5P bot stands 6 feet tall with two arms, and two legs. It’s the latest in its family of androids that began in 1998 with the HRP-1. The bot uses a mix of environment detection, object recognition, and precise movement planning to perform complex tasks, such as install drywall by itself. It can hoist up the boards and then fasten them with a screwdriver without any assistance.
The robots don’t move as freely as humans, but they do have numerous joints that flex to degrees that you won't see in actual humans. It doesn’t always look the most natural while it's working, but that doesn’t make it any less effective.
The HRP-5P is methodical, but it is far from quick due to its tendency to take baby steps and act cautiously. The potential here is still enormous. In addition to typical construction work like hanging drywall, the robots can be used to build things like aircraft and large ships.
Japan made the robots in an attempt to make up for its lack of a workforce, with its population aging and the birthrate declining. However, robots can do much more than add to the workforce in Japan. They have the potential to change the way the entire world approaches construction.
Here’s a short video if you want to see the robot in action:
After the HRP-5P, comes SAM. SAM isn’t a humanoid like the HRP-5P, but he serves a purpose just as crucial as the humanoid. SAM stands for semi-automated mason, and it’s a robotic bricklayer - a robotic bricklayer that can lay bricks up to 3x faster than it’s human counterparts.
SAM isn’t looking to take the jobs of humans; he’s just looking for a spot on the team. A human mason can lay about 300 to 500 bricks a day. SAM can lay down between 800 to 1,200 bricks in a day. If you have one human plus one SAM, you’ll get the productivity of four or more human masons.
In this human-robot team, SAM will perform the mundane tasks, like picking up the bricks, applying mortar, and placing them where they are supposed to go. SAM’s human counterparts will set up the worksite, lay the bricks in difficult areas, and handle the aesthetic details, like cleanup.
In its current form, SAM is best suited to work on massive flat walls - the kind of walls found in colleges, hospitals, and other large scale sites. However, some detailed work can be performed. For example, SAM can emblazon a company logo on a brick wall by following a pixelated map of the image. It can also create textured looks to wall faces.
Here’s a short video if you want to see the SAM in action:
Perhaps the most important thing to come from the rise of technology in the construction field is an increase in safety. The safety of the construction workers should always be the top priority, and thankfully new technology is making the workers safer than they’ve ever been. Here are five ways technology is making construction sites safer.
Centralized Safety Reports
Even today, most construction sites still use paper to file safety reports. This makes it extremely difficult for site managers to determine the best ways to make their sites safer since they have to dig through a mountain of paperwork.
Fortunately, things are finally starting to change. More and more construction sites are entering their safety reports into computer databases.
Now site managers have access to computer programs that monitor trends after gathering all the safety reports generated in a particular region. With this information at their disposal, site managers can make informed decisions that will ensure worker safety and help avoid safety issues that have repeated themselves in the past.
Ranging from surveillance to inspections, drones are being used on construction sites for a variety of reasons — the most important being to keep the sites as safe as possible.
By identifying potential hazards and performing quick worksite inspections, drones are making construction sites safer than they’ve ever been. They also ensure the safety of construction workers by allowing supervisors to monitor workers throughout the day.
Wearable technology enables the tracking and monitoring of people working in hazardous environments, making them safer. Businesses across the globe are implementing wearables in their work environments because of the impact it can have on overall safety.
With the help of wearables, businesses can detect things like gas, heat, a lack of movement by the workers, etc. If problems arise, nearby co-workers and management are notified immediately. This increases the chances of workers receiving immediate medical attention, which in turn leads to quicker recoveries and an increased chance of survival.
Technology that has been around for a number of years are finally starting to penetrate the construction field to make construction sites safer. Smartphones, combined with cloud technology and mobile apps, are entirely digitizing the safety processes. With smartphones, contractors no longer need to wait several weeks to get phone service to the construction site. Everyone is carrying around phone service in their pockets.
Safety checklists and approvals can be completed in realtime using smartphones. The digitization of safety processes via smartphones ensures smarter output, increased productivity, and real-time detection of conflicting activities.
Managers and co-workers can also keep tabs on what everyone on the job site is doing with mobile devices, limiting collisions and accidents that are common occurrences at construction sites.
The Dawn Of A New Era
It may have taken a little longer than expected, but the construction industry is finally utilizing technology to make things more efficient, more profitable, and most importantly, safer. We had to wait for it, but it appears like it’s going to be worth the wait.
With tech companies getting involved in the construction field and humanoid construction robots on the horizon, we are in for a wild ride. Who knows what the next decade will hold.