How Artificial Intelligence is Being Used Within the Construction Industry

SYSTEMS & TECHNOLOGY   |   3 minutes  |   April 8, 2019

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Ask people about artificial intelligence (AI), and you’ll likely elicit an array of responses – from an initial fear of rogue machines taking over the world, to indifferent dismissal. However, the reality is that AI in its current form is still far from super-intelligence and is rather a branch of study that has found widespread application in industries and business, including construction.1

The construction sector, estimated at being worth more than US$10 trillion a year, still remains severely under digitised.2 However, AI in construction is on the rise, and those who are ready to embrace this technology could gain a significant competitive advantage.3

How artificial intelligence can be used in the initial phases of construction

Gaining contracts and commercial advantage

AI can help increase a construction firm’s success rate in the initial tender process by assessing previous project bids, replicating what was successful in these bids, and avoiding those elements of failure. These learning algorithms can boost a construction firm’s win rate, predict the likelihood of a go/no-go scenario, increase margins, and drive project value.4 Construction analytics firms like Dodge Data & Analytics use AI and natural language processing (NLP) to learn from previous projects and data, instead of having from start to scratch each time.5

Producing design alternatives

Artificial intelligence can aid the design process with the use of generative design – a form-finding process that imitates nature’s evolutionary approach to design.6 The system – such as AutoDesk – is first given clearly specified design goals, after which it explores multiple variations of potential solutions to find the best option.7

Saving time with Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

In construction, instead of manually typing up or re-drawing documents, OCR technology can be used to quickly search drawings, and convert documents and images into editable and searchable data.8 Many drawing applications – such as Egnyte9 – use OCR to scan drawings, name and number sheets, and hyperlink related sheets together, saving construction businesses considerable time and cost.10

How AI is used in the execution phase of construction

Construction methodology

AI database systems can inform engineers of the best construction methodology for a site, based on previous projects as well as pre-existing blueprints in the design stage. With this information, engineers can make important decisions based on evidence that may not have been available to them before.11

Administrative roles

Once building has started, AI can be used for administrative tasks, such as allowing workers to input sick days, holidays, and leave days into a data system. The system will then adjust the project accordingly, and automatically assign tasks to other employees on the affected days.12

AI inside buildings

AI can be included inside both commercial and residential buildings. For example, in Las Vegas, the hotel giant Wynn announced that it will include Amazon Echo in every one of its 4,748 rooms. This AI technology allows guests to control the lighting, temperature, and any audio-visual equipment in their rooms with ease.13

How artificial intelligence could improve construction project management

Drones

Using drones to gather accurate survey maps and aerial images of a job site, as well as track progress remotely, saves on a project’s time and cost. Plus, the aerial images can give project managers a different perspective of the project, and help spot potential issues that may not have been apparent from the ground.14

Project and subcontractor management

Construction companies use AI to analyse project data – such as construction site monitoring and predictive analytics – in real time in order to make informed decisions that have implications on the project’s quality, safety, profitability, and schedule. 15

Alerts

Field reporting software allows foremen to submit job site activity or issues directly into the system, which can be set to send a notification or alert on certain keywords, such as ‘delay’ or ‘safety’. These alerts keep key stakeholders up-to-date on projects.16

How artificial intelligence is making construction safer and more profitable

Smart assistants

The construction industry is notorious for being high-risk and low-margin, with a dire need for an investment in technology that will help improve productivity.17 AI brings to construction the ability to sift through thousands of data points, automatically and instantly categorise and classify them, and highlight vital information on spend and risk to management.18

Safer and more compliant

AI technology, such as Smartvid, can analyse people in photos or videos on a job site; identify the presence or absence of safety gear, and alert safety officers in the case of infringements. This can lower risk and drive correct behaviours.

Improved productivity

One of AI’s most effective applications in construction is its ability to remove data silos. An example of this is Spot-R, which allows team managers to see the real-time location of workers on their 2D drawings and 3D models.19 This data can be used for machine learning algorithms to track productivity and suggest improvements.

The future of artificial intelligence in construction

Robots

While robots are not yet a common sight on construction sites, Hadrian X – a giant bricklaying robot developed by Fastbrick Robotics that can build homes in two days – has recently completed its first outdoor build.20

Breaking down to build

As seen with adjacent industries, such as logistics and manufacturing, AI facilitates the breaking down of barriers between key stakeholders in construction, and can help create an ecosystem of services, tools, and solutions that will keep the industry competitive.21

Construction businesses can start their road to embracing AI and technology by digitising their workflows and project documentation. This way, they can start leveraging that critical data and make it available for machine learning algorithms to analyse and predict risk.22

Early adopters and fast followers will be rewarded. Though construction typically lags behind when it comes to adoption of new technology, the time is ripe for business owners and firms to pull AI applications and techniques into the sector.23

  • 1 Rajagopal, A. (Dec, 2017). ‘The rise of AI and machine learning in construction’. Retrieved from Medium.
  • 2 Blanco, M. et al. (Apr, 2018). ‘Artificial intelligence: construction technologies next frontier’. Retrieved from McKinsey.
  • 3 Clavero, J. (Jan, 201). ‘Artificial intelligence in construction: the future of construction’. Retrieved from ESUB.
  • 4 Blanco, M. et al. (Apr, 2018). ‘Artificial intelligence: construction technologies next frontier’. Retrieved from McKinsey.
  • 5 Maffeo, L. (Mar, 2018). ‘1 in 3 construction leaders are using AI. Here’s how they do it’. Retrieved from GetApp Lab.
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  • 7 Weis, D. (Sep, 2018). ‘Generative design: solving design challenges with artificial intelligence’. Retrieved from AEM.
  • 8 (Nd). ‘What exactly is meant by OCR?’. Retrieved from Abbyy.
  • 9 Hayward, E. (Dec, 2018). ‘From paper to protected with optical character recognition’. Retrieved from Egnyte.
  • 10 Clavero, J. (Jan, 2018). ‘Artificial intelligence in construction: the future of construction’. Retrieved from ESUB.
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  • 12 Debney, P. (Mar, 2018). ‘How artificial intelligence is changing the construction industry’. Retrieved from Artificial Intelligence News.
  • 13 (Jan, 2017). ‘Amazon Echo coming to every room of Wynn Las Vegas’. Retrieved from Robotics Business Review.
  • 14 Clavero, J. (Jan, 2018). ‘Artificial intelligence in construction: the future of construction’. Retrieved from ESUB.
  • 15 Venugopal, M. (Nov, 2018). ‘How AI and machine learning are helping construction reduce risk and improve margins’. Retrieved from Construction Executive.
  • 16 Clavero, J. (Jan, 2018). ‘Artificial intelligence in construction: the future of construction’. Retrieved from ESUB.
  • 17 (Feb, 2017). ‘Reinventing construction: A route to higher productivity’. Retrieved from McKinsey.
  • 18 Venugopal, M. (Nov, 2018). ‘How AI and machine learning are helping construction reduce risk and improve margins’. Retrieved from Construction Executive.
  • 19 Wells, A. (Feb, 2018). ‘Construction and the IoT’. Retrieved from The Boss Magazine.
  • 20 Pivac, M. (Jan, 2019). ‘First outdoor build complete’. Retrieved from FBR.
  • 21 Blanco, M. et al. (Apr, 2018). ‘Artificial intelligence: construction technologies next frontier’. Retrieved from McKinsey.
  • 22 Venugopal, M. (Nov, 2018). ‘How AI and machine learning are helping construction reduce risk and improve margins’. Retrieved from Construction Executive.
  • 23 Blanco, M. et al. (Apr, 2018). ‘Artificial intelligence: construction technologies next frontier’. Retrieved from McKinsey.