Artificial intelligence in the construction sector

When it comes to technological innovations like artificial intelligence, the construction industry has been a bit late to the party. But that’s all changing. Robotics are being introduced to job sites, filling roles similar to factory assembly lines to assist in the construction of buildings.

Thanks to these advancements, they are now capable of laying bricks, dispensing cement, welding and demolition. But beyond this, the introduction of artificial intelligence means robotics are also able to do more complex activities, like determine which tool is required for a task and then retrieve it.

Artificial intelligence goes beyond the actual worksite, though, with devices being rolled out across the world to improve office operations, as well as mapping and surveying sites before construction even begins.

And that’s just the beginning. Here are some of the measures that we have already seen employed in Australia.

Smarter robots build emergency shelters when there is no labour

Murdoch University in Perth is exploring the use of specially designed bricks, which are automatically assembled into shelters in the advent of a disaster. These bricks tessellate and interlock in three dimensions, making buildings more stable than if they were built with traditional blocks.

Researchers behind these bricks have discovered there is a need for the shelters to be accessible quickly after a disaster has destroyed buildings, and labour is often thin on the ground in these situations.

The university is now working on methods where AI could automatically assemble these bricks into shelters, providing stable structures without the need for humans to put them together. As a result, researchers have created the SmartArm, which looks like a normal factory robot but behaves in a much more intelligent and dynamic way.

Instead of being programmed with step-by-step instructions, the SmartArm has a flexible, behaviour-based visual intelligence program. This allows it to make ‘decisions’ on the fly, using the optimal method to get the job done.

AI drones able to map topography and find flaws that humans may not

Drone technology is changing the way buildings are constructed and maintained, with devices able to be loaded with AI programs that allow the drones to seek out data.

While drones loaded with cameras are already being used to map out topography and ground services to assist in construction, their true value lies in maintenance.

A team of engineers could spend lengthy periods of time assessing a structure, which could be a dangerous exercise in itself, only to miss a vital flaw because of human error. These drones are able to reach areas where normal access is restricted, time consuming and dangerous

Technology companies like senseFly, DroneDeploy, Skycatch have created software for these drones that collects data and converts it to 3D structural models, topographical maps, and volumetric measurements.

In one example, GHD engineer Eric Bugeja saved Queensland Rail 80 per cent of the cost of inspecting a bridge using drone technology. He says that by applying artificial intelligence, drones could potentially produce mapped images that highlighted every flaw in a structure.

“With artificial intelligence, you can teach the software what to look for,” he says. “When we’re doing inspections, you can say to the software, ‘This is what a crack looks like’, or ‘This is what corrosion looks like’. The software then starts to learn what we are looking for.”

How contech collaborative hubs will change the construction industry

The future of artificial intelligence and its role in the construction industry largely lies in the hands of researchers and start-ups.

The fintech industry has benefited from establishing hubs, where start-ups can work with each other as well as investors, industry, corporate organisations and researchers in one workspace.

A fintech hub has been announced for Melbourne, with the Victorian Government committing to provide funding for the design and fit-out, rent and other support measures for at least three years out of its $200 million Future Industries Fund. The tender process has now closed and a shortlist of candidates to run the hub is being reviewed.

A contech hub of a similar nature could be the catalyst for real innovation with artificial intelligence in the Australian construction industry.

These kinds of meetings of the minds are already happening in the United States, with the JB Knowledge Contech Roadshow a notable example. This networking, education and tech demo forum travels to Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas and Oakland allowing those in the industry to collaborate over the latest innovations in the industry.

The scale for artificial intelligence in construction is only bound by the imagination of those in the industry. While this sector has been slow to adopt new advancements in technology, the early innovations are reaping real rewards. Smarter planning, construction and maintenance is possible through the use of AI, with further advancements likely to roll out over the coming years.

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About the Author: Josh Alston

Josh Alston is a journalist, editor and copywriter who has worked for several daily, community and regional newspapers across the Queensland seaboard for 12 years. In this time he has covered news, sport and community issues and has been published in major daily newspapers and nationally online for breaking news. Josh presently works as a freelance reporter writing for clients including the Victorian Government, AGL Energy and a host of others.

Twitter: @alstonjoshua

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