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AI can’t build tall buildings, but it can speed up work

It’s meant to be a sly jab at the hype surrounding artificial intelligence, a billboard At a construction site in Antwerp, BelgiumJun read “Hey ChatGpt, finish this building.”

Artificial intelligence, the technology that powers chatbots like ChatGPT, won’t be assembling apartments or building stadiums any time in the near future, but in construction – an industry known for clipboards and Excel spreadsheets – The rapid adoption of technology is how quickly projects can change over.

Drones, cameras, mobile apps and even some robots are increasingly mapping real-time progress on huge job sites, giving builders and contractors the ability to track and improve project performance.

“Forget about robots building skyscrapers,” said James Swanston, chief executive of Voyage Control, which makes project management software for construction sites. “It’s a more fundamental thing, getting the data you need and then making better use of it.”

construction industry It has long been considered a digital backward, but architects regularly use digital tools to design projects and create blueprints. see pills and drone at the same workplaces hard hats And safety jacket is common.

Now helmet-mounted cameras capture footage of a site to orchestrate when new crews or materials arrive, and precision sensors can detect if a new window is a few millimeters off the project blueprint and needs to be adjusted. Is. And AI is starting to be used in buying and selling real estate: JLL, a global broker, recently introduced has its own chatbot To provide insight to your customers.

This expanded analysis of the data is laying the groundwork for what many hope will be substantial improvements in accuracy, speed and efficiency by reducing timelines and waste, which have made manufacturing increasingly expensive.

“The construction industry is the largest in the world in terms of dollars spent, yet we are among the least productive in terms of technology adoption and productivity gains,” said David Jason Gerber, a professor at the University of Southern California whose research focuses on advanced technology. Are.” work is going on.

But the industry faces challenges in adopting AI technology, including concerns over accuracy and hallucinations, in which a system provides an answer that is incorrect or nonsensical.

Further data collection has been a complex problem, largely due to the nature of huge construction projects: no two developments are alike, topography and local regulations vary wildly, and each project requires a new set of contractors and subcontractors. Teams come together. It’s like starting a multimillion-dollar business for each big project.

Coordinating the complex ballet of supplies, labor and timetables remains a difficult task. But start-ups and investors see an opportunity, especially in the form of machine learning models that ingest massive amounts of data to understand patterns and predict how similar situations will play out, improving project performance. is used for.

The pandemic has already prompted construction companies to adopt more digital tools to allow on-site work during the lockdown, said Sarah Liu, partner at Fifth Wall, a venture capital firm focused on real estate investments. Due to which the development of new technology has accelerated.

“The best companies are not presenting themselves as AI companies,” he said. “They’re positioning themselves as problem-solving companies.”

Enplan, the construction consultancy firm led by Dev Amaratya, who helped draft Britain’s national artificial intelligence strategy, uses complex algorithms to track the progress of huge infrastructure projects and avoid mistakes or supply gaps. Its machine learning system was trained on a database of over 740,000 projects.

The company’s largest project to date, an $11 billion overhaul of railroad infrastructure in northern England, will use lessons learned from studying that vast array of projects to create detailed, real-time project maps for builders who 5 is expected to increase. Percentage discount off total cost.

Buildots, a start-up in Israel that provides project management guidance via wearable cameras that analyze building progress, has signed a deal for its first US project. A mixed use development in Manhattan, Firm ordered a study of 64 international construction sites, and found that only 46 percent of the average work site was being used at any given time, evidence of poor organization and scheduling.

“The best construction sites we studied saw a 30 percent increase in progress every week,” said Aviv Leibovici, the firm’s chief product officer and co-founder. “I think there are massive inefficiencies in this industry.”

Manufacturing companies have also made significant investments in their in-house technology. Avison Young’s Project Management Services division claims that its proprietary software and management programs can cut development time by 20 percent on average.

Suffolk, a large Boston-based construction company, has invested $110 million in funding construction start-ups, and has a team of 30 data analysts collecting and examining information from job sites. At the construction site of the South Station Tower in Boston, a 51-story development by Hines, cranes have cameras that document and label the steel used on the building’s frame, allowing data sets to be used on other projects in the future. construction takes place. Additional programs are being used to monitor progress and even predict accidents.

“There is zero unemployment in our industry; Technology is going to help existing workers do more, said John Fish, president and chief executive of Suffolk. “AI is going to replace companies that don’t use AI”

In an industry where security is so important, there is consternation about reported problems with AI and its accuracy. Programs like ChatGPT sometimes have an unfortunate tendency to provide answers based on incorrect predictions, said Julian Motte, chief technology officer at construction software firm Bentley Systems.

“In infrastructure, this is something we cannot afford,” he said. “We can’t confuse the design of a bridge with AI.”

But the perceived ability to get things done fast and cheap has proved attractive. Dusty Robotics, a technology firm in Mountain View, California, develops autonomous tools to trace building blueprints on construction sites, a task usually done by hand. While researching the industry, the company’s chief executive, Tessa Lau, observed workers measuring plans with chalk and tape; Some activists even tried to tape pens to Roombas.

Ms. Lau was concerned about how workers would react to the encroachment of robots and AI into the workplace. But in an industry desperate to attract young workers, offering potential apprentices the ability to use drones and robots could help with recruitment and retention.

Tony Hernandez, a union carpentry instructor in Northern California who teaches apprentices to use drones and dusty robots, sees these technologies as “just another tool.” He prefers the robot to trace lines rather than bend and trace himself, which means less wear and tear on his knees.

“It’s a great retention tool,” he said. “It’s brought in kids who grew up on Xbox and can figure out these devices in a five-hour class.”

Dusty has 120 units at sites across the United States, but that’s only the beginning. Ms. Lau calls the units, which can collect gigabytes of data, “Trojan horses to train the AI ​​of the future.”

Mitigating risk is ultimately where this technology can make its mark. Depending on the location and nature of the work, insurance can cover up to 10 percent of the cost of a single project, which can easily run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, with AI providing better ways to continue working, there is a lower risk and cheaper insurance option.

Shepherd, an insurance start-up, uses construction data to offer contractors cheaper premiums. Vint, an Israeli start-up that uses proprietary sensors and algorithms to eliminate water damage, which causes about a third of damage claims on construction sites, has been used in about 2,500 projects. A study by Munich Re found that VINT could cut loss rates by 90 percent.

“The insurance cost can be the difference between whether projects are able to be funded sustainably or not,” said Justin Levin, co-founder and chief executive of Shepherd.

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