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AI in the Construction Industry

We recently covered technology and how it has developed the healthcare industry, so we thought we would take look at how it has entered the construction industry.

Not so long ago (and maybe even now) people were asking will a robot take over my job? The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is definitely showing how the industry can develop. We have seen the TV advert where Microsoft and Common team up; with the main message being ‘Inspiring Possibility’. I think this is a reminder that acceptance of the technology is up to us, but how far do we want to take the technology?

Design and technical construction professions such as architects, quantity surveyors and construction managers have been noted as some of the sectors that are low down on the list to be replaced by machines according to the Martin School at Oxford University. 

If we look at Quantity Surveyors (QS) for instance, there may be small parts of the role where technology would take over; for instance, Bill of Quantities could be done by AI. The process will need to be changed in order for the information to be fed into the client’s and contractor’s requirements, but it is still an area of development. However, the wide-ranging role of a QS couldn’t be undertaken by a machine in its entirety but it can be part of their toolkit.

In a McKinsey report 2017, it claims that 7% of the world’s labour force is employed by the construction industry. Individuals and businesses spend $10 trillion per year on construction related activities. A significantly huge amount which won’t just die due to technology, and in some instances, it could be argued that technology will allow the industry to progress and grow at a faster rate.

AI and Machine Learning tend to go hand in hand. AI is understood to be when a machine mimics human cognitive functions such as problem solving, pattern recognition and the Machine Learning element uses the statistical data to provide the computer with the ability to ‘learn’ from the data without having to be programmed. The more data that is inputted into the computer the more chance the machine is able to predict and provide insights. This is not to say that a human could not provide that information, only through AI and Machine learning the outcome is produced at a far quicker rate.

Areas of AI working with Construction

1. Building Information Modelling (BIM) – A process used by engineering and construction professionals to effectively plan, design and construct buildings. The system takes in all of the various parts such as electrical, plumbing, mechanical etc to ensure all parts are working together and not clashing. The machine learning element can hopefully prevent any unnecessary reworks, excessive costs and provide alternative designs. However, human interaction will be needed to interpret and authorise.

2. Risk factors – An organisation is currently trialling software that uses AI to help spot health and safety breaches on a construction site – Smartvid.io. This technology is said to help supplement the role of the Health and Safety manager. Construction sites can be spread over a large area and sometimes it’s impossible for a person to effectively constantly cover the area, however this new technology device is scanning the site and tagging files; people, materials, ladders etc and feeding the information back to the H&S manager highlighting potential risk factors, allowing them to take the necessary safety action.

3. Labour shortages – where there is a lack of new entrants into the construction industry, AI technology could help fulfil those areas to ensure productivity remains high. In addition, the ‘robot’ is constantly valuating the job progress and can inform project managers of possible delay, timelines not being met and parts or projects that are running behind. This in turn gives the project manager the insight in moving labour or requiring further staff to work on another area of the project.

These are just a few instances where AI technology is already making an impact, proving how it can potentially improve the construction industry and not entirely replace the human element.

The future of AI in Construction 

There is no doubt that technology has had an impact in numerous industries. The one area that leaves an opening is the fact that technology will need someone to operate it and interpret the data. Herein lies the next phase of the construction industry, there will be a need for the industry to provide businesses and individuals with the ability to retrain and employ new entrants into the industry therefore adding a new skillset to the workforce.