Robots, software, virtual reality - will technology free us from construction sites?
Working from home has been a smooth transition for our team, however, we find ourselves not equipped with the right tools to supervise our construction sites. We have to put on head-to-toe protection to have an on-site meeting. The construction industry is notorious for lagging behind times. At times like this, the availability and adoption of integrated project solutions, remote site monitoring, and improved tools for building present urgency. In this article, I will share some opportunities and missed opportunities for technologies used in construction sites.
Many of the technologies invented for construction site management face this single challenge - the adoption rate remains low, and the industry is known for insufficient training for advanced technologies. However, we are at a turning point for any construction technology that can reduce human contact and improve remote working to flourish.
Opportunity 1 - project coordination tool to reduce collaboration friction and improve efficiency
Building Information Modeling could be the ideal tool for all the complaints of change orders, project updates, and project-worksite coordination. A project update that requires meetings and site visits from architects to engineers, could be achieved simply by updating an input on a technician’s device. Although the technology has been around longer than the existence of the internet, the adoption rate of such technology remains low worldwide. There are a few challenges, mainly because such a system comes at an initial cost that most small to medium developers/contractors are not willing to invest in. BIM is a holistic software so only when architects, engineers, surveyors, and contractors are all on board, such a system would achieve its optimized performance. BIM has been an often-talked-about missed opportunity in the construction industry, however, maybe now is the time to revive and reconsider a wider adoption of this integrated solution.
Opportunity 2 - construction robotics to streamline workflow and increase construction productivity
Only a couple of months ago, construction robotics, prefabricated building parts, and 3D printing all seemed like buzz words. All of sudden, the high costs associated with people working physically on construction sites due to the spread of pandemic pressed more urgency for technological progress. Currently, machinery used on construction sites has not gone through a significant transformation since industrialization. 3D printing gained lots of traction, however real construction sites often face more challenges than in a controlled environment. To widely-adopt construction robotics, it is important to streamline and consolidate data to train machine learning, instead of streamlining construction processes in a controlled environment.
Opportunities 3 - augmented reality is a way forward for construction supervision
To conduct site supervision from a distance, virtual reality becomes the most appropriate technology at hand. Microsoft’s Hololens and Holobuilder can be great to replace onsite supervision and create a comprehensive database of records. Hololens is a mixed-reality tool, meaning it can superimpose drawings, modelings, comments to the construction site. It does not completely replace human supervision, but it will make remote collaboration a lot more smooth. By decomposing a complex work of supervising worksite to recording and categorizing images, Holobuilder is an onsite robot that takes and files images throughout the worksite. Augmented reality or mixed reality tools have developed for a few years for practical industry adoption. Perhaps right now it is the time to implement and experiment more of such tools on site.
Construction industry experts were frustrated by the speed of technological improvements in the field, perhaps this pandemic presents more opportunities than ever for us to start making things right.