The construction industry has traditionally been slow to embrace technology, but now that it is, the impact could be enormous.
By Anna Kucirkova*
Technology is changing the world. Almost everything we touch on a daily basis is influenced by technology. Our cell phones have 100,000 times the speed of an early personal computer. We’re getting to the point where soon we won’t even have to drive our own cars.
Yet when we picture the construction industry, the first thing that pops into our heads is a rugged construction worker holding a hammer, covered in dust and dirt, and probably wearing a five o’clock shadow.
Cutting edge technology has been used in the construction industry for many years, particularly in the design phase (using models for locating conflicts prior to building is an industry standard.) Today, however, the industry is embracing new, revolutionary technologies on the construction side as well.
Considered the final frontier for technological breakthroughs, construction companies are finally catching up with the rest of the world. And as an industry that added 282,000 new jobs just last year, there will be plenty of people who benefit.
Autodesk hops on the construction bandwagon
Autodesk calls itself the software company for people who make things, enabling the creation of everything from cars to cities to the latest summer blockbuster. They also make technology that can talk to robots, print the latest fashions in 3D, and even fold DNA. In short, they claim to make the software for “tomorrow.”
Lately, Autodesk has been pushing the construction industry to join them. They recently 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 on projects in real time.
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.
The rise of the humanoid
With the rise in technology comes an increase in efficiency. Sometimes it’s a new app or a streamlined system. Sometimes it comes in the form of a humanoid.
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 six feet tall with two arms and two legs. It’s the latest in a 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.
After the HRP-5P, comes SAM. SAM isn’t a humanoid, but he serves just as crucial a purpose. SAM stands for semi-automated mason, and it’s a robotic bricklayer—one that can lay bricks up to three times faster than its 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.
Perhaps the most important thing to come from the rise of technology in the construction field is an increase in safety. Here are five ways that 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. Today, site managers have access to computer programs that monitor trends after gathering all the safety reports generated in a particular region, enabling them to make informed decisions that will ensure worker safety.
Ranging from surveillance activities to inspections, drones are being used on construction sites for a variety of reasons—the most important of which is 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.
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.
- Mobile Technology
Technology that has been around for a number of years is finally starting to penetrate the construction field to make worksites 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.
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. With tech companies getting involved in the construction field and the use of robots on the horizon, we are in for a fascinating ride and nobody knows what the future will hold.