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Artificial Intelligence Meets Construction

Technology shapes so much around us. Cars no longer need gasoline. Home appliances respond to voice commands. Ten thousand songs reside on a wristwatch. All of this (and much more) can be traced back to the next technological paradigm shift that is artificial intelligence. Software has evolved from rigid, binary engines to learning systems that are only limited by human imagination.

Legacy industries are already shifting as a result. AI powered machines are driving our cars, protecting our financial systems, and playing our music. Industry after industry is becoming more efficient and more effective. The latest sector to embrace the opportunity? Construction.

Construction is the age-old practice of orchestrating people, equipment, and materials to produce buildings, tunnels, bridges, etc. Technology long has played an important role in this industry, influencing fundamental processes such as structural design, plan creation, and information dissemination. Ironically, for all of the effort applied to project preparation, very little technology is actually used on the ground.

Construction sites are semi-organized zones of chaos, characterized by a symphony of noise, people, materials, and massive equipment. While the end result of those efforts is almost always useful, and often beautiful, the process typically is terribly inefficient. In fact, 90% of big construction projects across North America are over budget by 80% (ENR NYC Global Summit 2016).

Why? The sheer variety of confounding variables over what typically is a multi-year project makes analytical conjecture nearly impossible.

But thanks to the advent of AI, that’s no longer true. How?

With AI, a construction site becomes a living, breathing blueprint, where computers can recognize events, capture and share Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and recommend corrective action.

Along with colleagues of mine who have been building things for a lifetime, we’ve identified 5 areas where AI powerfully can impact tomorrow’s construction site.

1.Safety – By analyzing video footage, AI can provide real time alerts in the event of safety violations. This includes violations of equipment operating procedures, and breaches of valid operating certifications. Alerts can also be provided if PPE (hard hats, vests goggles, or others) are not used at all times. Intelligent machine control can eliminate human error and prevent safety hazards that can occur when humans are exposed to heavy machinery.

2.Real Time Schedule Analysis and Control – With hundreds of concurrent activities on a jobsite, it is impossible to keep all trains running on time using traditional tools. AI offers the ability for schedules to be monitored, to detect irregularities, and for intervention to take place in real time. AI can also easily retrieve training materials from the database, which will help remedy the ‘skilled labor shortage’ the construction industry currently faces.  Real-time intervention also provides an opportune ability to take immediate action or re-plan work. A project manager armed with an AI solution finally can be everywhere at once. Using a mobile phone app, project managers can easily see the new hires, add a profile to the system, and set permissions for what new workers are allowed to do. Additionally, tools can be  tagged to make sure there are easy to find.

3.Budgets & Billing – AI helps to match what happens on the ground to what’s been billed. It can detect and reconcile delivery time, quantity delivered, quantity installed, equipment up time, and more against submitted invoices.

4.Performance Analytics and Estimation – The more data an AI solution consumes, the better the future decision making. Onsite management and risk mitigation will benefit both the current project and all future ones, as the compilation of data from hundreds of sites will allow for more accurate industry benchmarking and far superior future planning. When budgeting accuracy improves, the number of projects the construction industry will be able to execute will skyrocket.

5.Real time Building Information Model (BIM) – Blueprints long have been static objects; they’re drawn prior to a construction project and only intermittently (and manually) updated as conditions on the ground change. Imagine instead that a construction site’s blueprint is a fluid learning document capable of ingesting material, labor, equipment, soil, and even weather conditions. Blueprints that have the ability to adapt and adjust will further ensure optimum outcomes.