AI in construction is a beneficial use for a powerful trendy tool, bringing new innovations to the structures we build and the projects we design. No longer a far-off technological fantasy, artificial intelligence is impacting construction sites in the real world right now.
Artificial intelligence impacts many construction sites already, hidden in plain sight. Designers, project managers and HR departments all are capable of accessing AI technology to improve the speed and efficiency of their work in developing, managing and hiring. Other uses like construction robots and drones are more visible examples of AI in action.
For more of a background on artificial intelligence and an exploration of its impact on the future of the construction industry, read on below. You can also jump to our animated infographic that details AI and its relationship with the construction industry.
Basic AI Principles: The Purpose of AI
AI technology exists to improve the lives of humans by innovating in exciting ways. AI is a learning software that’s capable of capturing information in many different ways to analyze and repeat. AI design software analyzes real blueprints and mockups to study design possibilities, while AI HR software aids hiring efforts by analyzing applicants.
Artificial intelligence is subject to more scrutiny than most other technologies because of its supposedly limitless potential. If humans can learn new things and evolve, then it’s possible that the machines we teach will then also learn to evolve, though it’s not likely that the technology behind your construction equipment will cause it to turn against you and revolt.
Many rules exist to guide the development of artificial intelligence technology. These rules intend to ensure that fewer unintended consequences result from irresponsible use of AI tech. In summary, they all act to enforce these four principles:
- Accounts for itself: The machine can’t hide its actions or intentions, nor can it learn to.
- Benefits all of humanity: AI learns with the goal of benefiting anyone who interacts with it.
- Operates autonomously: Human intervention in operations will be minimal if it’s required at all.
- Abides by a moral compass: Learned moral codes impact AI’s decision-making abilities.
With these principles in mind, AI in construction guides the development of buildings that are healthier for their occupants and cities that are smarter for their inhabitants. In general, construction projects using AI tech can be designed, managed and staffed efficiently.
The Future Is Now: 5 Benefits AI Brings to Construction
The concrete benefits that AI technology brings to the construction industry impact not only a project’s accuracy and efficiency but also a construction firm’s culture and leadership. AI facilitates tasks to help people become better at their own jobs. In a people-centric industry like construction, AI can benefit multiple stages of any project from designing concepts to staging demolitions.
These technological advancements are already impacting construction projects. Read on to discover five real-world benefits that AI offers to the construction industry as a whole.
1. Expanded Design Potential
Parametric design is the practice of using AI to alter design parameters and achieve design feats that were previously unimaginable. AI analyzes thousands of blueprints as source material for a project, then designs its own concepts with this new knowledge. Outlandish concepts can lead to innovative design elements like intelligent room layouts for increased natural airflow.
AI can also maximize design potential within a set of constraints, like budget or site dimensions. Finch is a tool that assesses the constraints of a project site and modifies plans to fit those constraints. Architectural firm Zaha Hadid uses similar AI tools to test arrangements of glass panels in building facades so that the most cost-effective arrangement pattern is used.
2. Hands-Off Project Management
AI has the potential to streamline project scope even in exceptionally large and complex construction projects. ALICE is a construction management software that uses AI to vet projects for potential bids, assess the feasibility of different project plans and monitor supply timelines to keep projects on track, putting scheduling woes and cost overruns to rest.
Other tools, like Building Information Modeling software, use AI to monitor completed projects and offer predictive maintenance recommendations, suggesting modifications that might not be scheduled or planned. These tips go beyond traditional preventive maintenance to find potential hazard spots before a failure or malfunction, acting like a pair of x-ray goggles for project managers.
3. Minimal Staffing Headaches
Hiring is a common stressor for construction managers. AI technology analyzes applicant data and compares it with a detailed company record to judge fit based on experience. This not only simplifies a task for a hiring manager but also highlights the most qualified candidates automatically.
Among current employees, AI technology is capable of keeping a detailed personnel record (like a filing cabinet that analyzes its contents). This enables the software to predict employees who might be inclined to lead or employees that may be close to leaving. This can inform management’s decision-making for taking the appropriate actions to help employees grow.
4. Heightened Safety
AI tech is capable of using learned knowledge to inform a project with specific best practices for safety related to a job site. This oversight keeps workers safe and accidents to a minimum in one of the most dangerous industries to work for. For example, AI used in construction wearables, like hardhats and boots, can alert workers of dangers on the worksite.
AI’s generative design capabilities allow it to render handicap accessible entrances, fire safety exits, warning lights and more in the most optimal locations for increased occupant safety. 3D printers can use AI to do the same for modular buildings at a lesser cost. This way, AI leads to safer, healthier buildings that improve the lives of those who live and work in them.
5. Improved Precision
While construction wearables and site-monitoring software are making the workplace safer for construction workers, other technology, like drones and construction robots, are using AI to complete tasks with precision and reduce material waste. These robots are capable of performing tedious jobs quickly and accurately without fatigue.
Construction drones can use AI software to contrast blueprints to aerial land surveys and determine if changes need to be made to accommodate for unforeseen obstacles. Even large construction equipment, like bulldozers and excavators, can be fitted with AI guidance systems to run autonomously, reducing opportunities for human error.
Biggest Setbacks to Widespread AI Adoption
Though AI has tremendous potential to make construction sites safer, more equitable places of work and to upend design limits as we know them, speculation abounds at the mention of autonomous worksite technology. This skepticism isn’t unwarranted, as it can be difficult to imagine the impact of AI technology across the entire construction industry.
A high upfront cost is the most significant factor hindering the widespread adoption of AI technology in the construction industry. A 2018 McKinsey & Co. analysis found that the construction industry trails 11 other industries in year-over-year spending increases related to AI tech. The analysis also found that larger firms are likely to benefit faster from AI implementation because of cost.
In addition to a steep price tag, a general lack of human intervention causes some professionals to distrust AI tech. The construction industry is still built on a foundation of trusting relationships between many parties, whereas AI is made to be autonomous. The same tech that improves safety for construction workers can result in a lost contract opportunity for a safety advisor.
An Autonomous Future is Guaranteed—To Some Degree
The construction industry is facing a labor shortage that was only compounded by the coronavirus crisis as worksites shuttered around the world. AI tech has the potential to ease the labor strain on companies by boosting HR departments, managers and builders alike, but its cost and unfamiliarity are likely to slow its implementation in smaller construction firms.
Regardless of the time it takes for AI to make its mark on the entire construction industry, small advancements are being made today that are laying the groundwork for more change to come. AI has real potential to boost safety and job security in a dangerous industry in need of skilled labor, all while ushering in a new era for design innovation. There’s nothing artificial about that.
Additional Sources: McKinsey & Co. | The Conversation | Architecture & Design | De Zeen | ArchDaily | Commercial Design