High-tech electronics may not sound like a natural fit on a hot, dusty, dangerous construction site, but artificial intelligence (AI) has revolutionized the capabilities of robotics and the construction field in general. These technologies offer valuable benefits in areas like safety, efficiency and risk mitigation, especially as AI moves away from screens and onto job sites as assistants and data collectors.
Any construction organization looking to improve operations and keep pace with technological advancements should be paying attention to the many applications of AI and robotics. From safety and efficiency to accuracy and compliance, these technologies have a lot to offer in this dynamic industry.
How Does AI Affect Construction?
Robotics and AI aren't particularly new technologies, but their capabilities have skyrocketed in the last century, especially when we consider the intersection between them. Robots can execute complex tasks and instructions, but they're traditionally constrained to environments built for them, like warehouses and manufacturing plants. These rigid settings might have paved floors and specific paths for robots to follow. Construction, however, usually occurs on rough ground, with rocks, mud and other hazards. AI is one of the biggest resources available for getting robots into these harder-to-navigate environments.
AI might perform a wide range of calculations when a robot must move through an unpredictable space, such as a construction site. It needs to analyze the environment, detect obstructions and recognize certain objects, all before determining the best way to move. Then, as the AI uses trial and error, it learns more about the best way to navigate the area. Soon, the robot can move through the space with vastly improved accuracy and reliability. Contractors can use the robot on different job sites now that it's been trained to adapt to the environment.
In this scenario, AI is crucial in building robots that can navigate construction sites. When combined with other AI tools, which we'll discuss later, this ability is already making waves in how contractors approach certain tasks. For example, dangerous or time-consuming tasks can now be delegated to a robot, leaving human workers to tackle safer, more efficient jobs or those that require creativity.
AI also contributes to more advanced software solutions and can aid in design, planning and workforce management. By learning from diverse data points and your requirements, AI can help your organization solve problems faster and more accurately.
Even without AI, robots offer countless capabilities for increasing speed and limiting hands-on labor requirements. For instance, robotic total stations allow one worker to operate the machine and quickly finish all layout and measurement tasks. Others might support tasks like quality assurance or automated 3D laser scanning, offering automation and control that makes the process more efficient and accurate while reducing labor demands.
Examples of AI and Robotics in Construction
AI and its expansive capabilities are making significant waves in the construction industry, impacting everything from planning to post-construction building maintenance. Although precise applications are still being developed and refined, AI will affect everyone in the industry — large and small organizations alike. Robots are similarly transforming the way many contractors collect data and finish their work.
Most of these technologies are designed for specific purposes, so you may need several solutions to accommodate different parts of your workflow. Here are some ways AI and robotics are used in construction.
1. Site Surveys
Site surveys require extensive data collection and analysis, two areas in which AI excels. AI-powered site survey equipment can gather information about a diverse and dangerous job site with minimal human involvement. You'll find many ways that AI and robotics support field assessments. However they're used, they can facilitate remote work, improve accuracy and speed up the process.
Spot, for example, is an autonomous construction robot built by Trimble and Boston Dynamics, two companies at the forefront of construction and robotics. Spot can navigate unique and potentially dangerous environments to perform scans and surveys and monitor progress without the need for a worker to control it. It can also collect data on work that's already completed and identify deviations from design models. Spot's sophisticated AI allows it to navigate dynamic job sites to gather the information it needs without human involvement.
Another helpful robot to have during site prep is a drone. Drones can accomplish aerial surveys quickly and precisely for more efficient processes. Many drones use AI to help avoid obstacles, process images and maximize performance, creating a more user-friendly experience and optimizing battery life. Today's drones can bypass dangerous environments entirely, allowing you to collect survey data with a quick overhead sweep of the job site.
2. Worker Safety and Labor Management
Construction frequently ranks at the top of lists of the most dangerous industries. AI and robots create an excellent opportunity for improving worker safety. They support accuracy at virtually every stage of construction, reducing the chances of errors and minimizing risk. More directly, they limit the need for humans to enter dangerous areas, allowing robots to tackle the riskiest spaces.
Some AI-powered systems can also promote safe behaviors with technologies like intelligent hard hats and worker-tracking software. A worker-tracking solution, for example, can monitor many different aspects of your crew, such as their location, certifications and access control data. With its mix of hardware and software, an integrated job site allows you to ensure only authorized personnel access certain areas and that workers can quickly find and communicate with each other if an incident occurs.
3. Material and Site Preparation
Preparing the job site and assembling materials can be tedious. Fortunately, robots can now help with many of those actions. From laser guidance and layout tasks to tying rebar and laying bricks, construction robots can speed up and simplify many tasks, freeing up workers for more human-oriented responsibilities.
For instance, one helpful companion on the job site is a printing robot like HP SitePrint. This robot autonomously prints lines and objects to accurately transfer data from a digital model onto the construction site. It speeds up the process, reduces labor requirements and improves accuracy by drawing directly from the model data.
Many robots you can use on construction sites provide improved accuracy by reducing human error and working from your digital model. They also limit human involvement, allowing you to use your team for tasks that are harder to automate.
4. Construction Management
Many types of construction software can also use AI to perform complex calculations and create plans in the context of project goals and requirements. You might generate optimized schedules based on your team's qualifications and availability, or you could pull real-time monitoring data from the site into your project management software.
The capabilities of robotics and AI can also transform the nature of communication. Robots can be controlled from remote locations, and they can collect on-site information to update digital twins in real time. Capable software solutions allow you to create integrated systems that keep everyone on the same page. AI can use the many data points involved in construction management to create incredibly detailed plans and insights for solving problems, boosting efficiency and optimizing performance.
5. Building Management
Even after construction, AI and robotics can offer assistance. With various data points from sensors and imaging tools, digital twins can use AI to understand building conditions and improve maintenance. They could offer insights into optimal ventilation settings or identify the need for a repair based on energy usage, airflow and temperature. Sophisticated modeling platforms can use AI to support optimal building management based on real-world data.
Benefits of AI and Robotics in Construction
With so many diverse applications, AI and robotics support the construction industry in many ways. Whether you're working toward improved efficiency, safety, profitability or another goal, AI and robotics can help. Some of the most valuable benefits of robotics and AI in construction include:
- Streamlined design processes: Predictive AI often streamlines the design process by anticipating problems, performing complex calculations and generating realistic models. Designers can spend less time on these tasks while enjoying greater accuracy and minimizing costly changes in the future.
- Increased efficiency: You can dramatically speed up on-site construction processes, such as site surveying or laying out plans. Better efficiency can reduce labor demands, help you finish ahead of the deadline and provide more flexibility in scheduling. Faster project completion also helps you stay ahead of the competition and give your company a unique advantage.
- Real-time monitoring: Robots and AI allow teams to have eyes on the ground at all times. New technologies offer real-time insights into the job site, from monitoring employee locations to keeping an eye on environmental conditions. Construction companies can make more informed decisions based on the latest details and avoid setbacks.
- Better accuracy: These technologies are exceptionally accurate and less prone to human error. You can reduce risk and work with more reliable data by taking advantage of greater accuracy. You're less likely to need costly and complex changes later in the build, and you can create higher-quality projects.
- Improved safety: Using robots on the construction site can eliminate the need to place workers in potentially dangerous situations and increase safety across the job site. Other tools, like integrated headsets and worker-tracking systems, can improve communication and help teams stay safe while working with complex equipment and environments.
- Labor flexibility: By boosting efficiency and limiting the need for human involvement in repetitive tasks, companies can increase independence from a volatile labor market. You could employ more remote workers and draw from a larger labor pool, and you can avoid delays due to staffing shortages. AI can even help you free up resources by simplifying administrative tasks, such as documentation and security requirements.
- Simplified compliance and safety requirements: AI and robotics offer exceptional visibility and transparency, especially with workforce tracking tools. For example, CrewSight can store information such as certifications, emergency contacts, access control permissions and productivity data. It can automate reports and communication, simplifying the process of communicating with workers and regulatory agencies. You can drastically reduce the need for robust HR teams and rest easier with real-time insights into compliance and safety.
With so many diverse benefits, these technologies are opening up new opportunities for all types of construction companies. Whether you work in commercial, residential, industrial or government construction, robots and AI will likely find their way into your workflow.
The Future of Construction Robotics and AI
Although the field is still evolving, construction is a proving ground for AI and robotics. As they learn to navigate dynamic, possibly dangerous environments, robots have made great strides in creating safer work environments for humans and improving the quality and efficiency of the build. AI is a vital tool in enabling these advancements and guiding non-robotic technologies such as software systems. Recent advancements in AI have made it a powerful player in the construction world.
All construction companies should be paying attention to these technologies, as they'll guide some of the industry's most innovative and competitive resources. Experts anticipate a compound annual growth rate of over 23% for the construction robotics market from 2020 to 2027, suggesting rapid adoption across all segments. With such diverse possibilities and benefits, robotics and AI should be a top concern for construction companies. They'll be necessary to keep pace with the competition and position your organization as an industry leader.
While entirely autonomous construction might be peeking over the horizon, today's technology integrations require organizations to incorporate them effectively with existing workflows. This challenge can be significant, impacting the potential value of AI and robotics and possibly hurting your existing processes. Successful integration of technology should help your team work more efficiently and safely. It should never impede your progress or slow you down.
Proper integration requires a thorough understanding of your company, team and technology. It depends on good data and a collaborative mindset. Current capabilities require collaborative work between humans and robots, so you'll need to understand how they will integrate into your workflow to maximize their value.
Thankfully, AI excels at learning new information, especially when built for the dynamic construction setting. With the right integration approach, you can set yourself up for success and incorporate robots and AI in a way that matches your unique working environment.
Start Innovating With Robots, AI and BuildingPoint SouthEast
Making the most of AI and robotics requires a measured, calculated approach selected for your unique workflow and environment. BuildingPoint SouthEast has become a trusted partner to contractors across the southeast United States, offering technology solutions from the industry leaders over at Trimble.
We can help you find and implement the right tools, from the Spot robot to drones and lasers. We'll also help your team learn the systems with flexible and certified Trimble training programs. As a full-service provider, we offer certified services and repairs to keep your equipment working as intended.
Whether your goals revolve around improving efficiency, safety or something else, we're here to help you find the ideal solution. Contact us today to chat with a representative and see how our AI-powered solutions and robotics can transform your workflow.