Data to build a better construction sector

Monday, May 7, 2018

Data to build a better construction sector

While many sectors and as a consequence many companies are becoming data driven, some have not yet caught up to this new way of doing business. The construction and building sector, for example, is not an early adopter of new technologies. While there is no exact reason, it is interesting to see how even small changes that involve Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence could create a ripple effect in how we make things. We have already observed how incorporating anonymized data into transportation with LUCA Transit can help improve flows of people and understand how they move about a city, so how about using data to improve how roads are repaired?

building under construction
Figure 1. Unlike other sectors, construction has not fully embraced AI yet

Volvo for example, widely known for the safety of its vehicles, is leveraging this on their construction equipment. One specific action they are taking is adding “Compact Assist” to their soil and asphalt compactors. Compact Assist is an AI feature that can detect, track and store the temperature, soil density and map of the territory where the vehicle is used. Not only does this allow easy access to past information, but also helps create and keep targets. Imagine a main street needs pavement, and taking an extra two hours to apply it can cause extensive traffic jams. If you commute to work, you already know this is a nightmare, and this is where a technology like this could come in handy. What Compact Direct is able to do is use a “pass mapping” feature to register how many times the compactor has gone over a certain area, and covered the surface completely. No need for wasting extra time or material, only a smooth road ahead.

After overcoming some challenging years due to a financial crisis, construction and building has picked up once again in Spain. According to El Mundo, the construction sector in Spain will show an increase of about 3.5% starting this year, and through 2020, and shows an increase of the same 3.5% for all of Europe.

Architects, interior designers, civil engineers and electricians are only a few of the people involved in making a building come to life. In this data driven age, how can AI and ML help make these processes better?

bulldozer on a construction site
Figure 2. With data, construction sites will become safer and make better use of equipment

When an investment is so large, the last thing the site owner wants is for delays to become costs.  Sticking to deadlines and budgets is an ongoing challenge when taking a project like this to the next level, and this is precisely where utilizing data, especially data collected when it is needed.  One company dedicating themselves to on-site data collection is Doxel, based in Palo Alto, California. Through their self-directed robots and drones, Doxel can give a client the ability to track the progress of a construction site in real-time, give construction workers less margin of error, and the opportunity to fix anything that is moving away from the original building plan. Doxel uses deep learning algorithms to detect inconsistencies. As the CEO of the company Saurabh Ladha mentioned, “You can’t improve what you can’t measure” and by giving data a key role in the process, not only will the cloud have valuable data that all parties involved can use, but provide constant on-site improvements and maximization of resources. A pilot project already proved that Doxel has great potential by finishing 11 percent under the estimated budget.

About 20% of all U.S. injuries and deaths, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) happen on constructions sites, and even though this statistic only covers the United States, it gives an idea of the dangers that construction workers face every day around the world. Companies like Triax have taken action and have developed a set of wearables (Spot-r clip, Spot-r Evactag and Spot-r Equiptag) with the aim of creating a connected and safe site. Spot-r by Triax works with IoT technology, to provide data to a dashboard and record how many workers are on-site, worker identification and safety alerts, among many other advantages. Perhaps the most interesting feature is how the wearable can track if someone has been injured (Spot-r clip), and send alerts to aforementioned dashboard, with the location of the person to reduce response time and allow for help to arrive more rapidly. Last but not least, reports can be created to put all the collected data to good use and avoid past mistakes, even if no two projects will be identical.

Considering that one building involves continuous planning, and several people from different fields, anything that could make a process quicker, safer and less costly is always an option to consider. The application of Data has proven once again to be a tool that no matter the sector, when put to good use will make the outcome more precise. This is only the beginning for these technologies to seep into the construction and building sector, and what will come next will in no doubt be bigger and better.


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