Read the article as published on Fast Company here.
The potential uses of AI have become a widely discussed topic in today’s media, inspiring both great enthusiasm and apprehension. Flashy demonstrations of AI are all the rage within the arts and entertainment industries—attracting considerable attention with AI-generated songs, scripts, video, and artwork. These remarkable achievements have certainly captivated public attention (for better or for worse), but they also distract us from considering AI’s more practical applications.
It’s highly likely that AI’s most profound impact on society will come from more understated industries. Despite lacking the glitz and glamor of entertainment, construction (for example) wields a whopping global value of over $12 trillion annually—in addition to influencing where we live, work, and travel. In a market this large, even incremental improvements can hold enormous financial impact.
AI is already making significant strides in construction—a field known for its skepticism towards abstract technological solutions. For a pragmatic industry generally slow to adapt to digital advancements, the swift implementation of AI-driven tools and solutions is a strong testament to the tangible benefits these technologies offer.
When considering where AI-driven technologies might make an immediate (and significant) impact, a review of construction’s most common pain points reveals several promising applications. Construction security, for instance, has historically posed an enormous challenge (especially for large projects, and those located in remote or rural areas). The numbers tell the tale: According to figures published by the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the National Equipment Register, construction projects located within the US lose an estimated $1B annually to theft. Less than 25% of stolen construction equipment is ever recovered, and this figure only accounts for heavy machinery, not beginning to account for the most common thefts, including valuable construction materials such as lumber, copper and other metals, and smaller equipment such as hand or power tools.
In the past, project stakeholders have defaulted to manual surveillance, but this is neither an effective nor cost-effective solution. Enter Twenty20 Solutions, a company offering AI-integrated video monitoring with remote-managed solutions specifically tailored for onsite construction applications. Their systems enable live monitoring, detection, and categorization of human, vehicle, and animal activities, alerting their Manned Monitoring Center to potential threats in real time. Human personnel can then determine what action is required to respond appropriately, including contacting local law enforcement when necessary. The use of AI in this way adds efficiency while eliminating the need for costly onsite security personnel—and circumventing “false positive” alerts or law enforcement requests prohibitive to the use of traditional automated security systems.
Risk management is another pain point of large-scale construction, in which onsite conditions can shift at a moment’s notice. When worker safety is paramount, changes to the built environment can introduce new challenges or factors for consideration, and unforeseen circumstances can often result in delays that affect project profitability. When deployed strategically, stakeholders can leverage the predictive capabilities of AI-driven tools and software to facilitate the identification of potential issues in project trajectory. When construction risk typically adds costs ranging between 2.7%-8.7% of the project budget, any improvement to mitigation is a boon to the bottom line.
A prime example of providers effectively deploying AI for risk management in the construction sector is Buildots. Their software provides real-time insights into the progress of construction projects. Onsite crew members are supplied with hard hats equipped with integrated cameras, allowing for documentation of their daily work activities. Images are captured as work is performed, and then processed by AI-powered algorithms on the Buildots platform, enabling comparison between the original project plan and actual progress—in real time. Using predictive technologies, the platform can often identify potential issues before they occur, helping stakeholders mitigate or circumvent risks that might otherwise cause cascading delays. This invaluable information empowers builders to proactively reprioritize tasks and address critical challenges promptly, resolving the age-old problem of assessing the gap between planning and current conditions.
AI can also be used to combat the challenges of construction scheduling. In the past, scheduling was time-consuming and complex, often resulting in limited exploration of different options for project progression. Utilizing tools like Microsoft Project or Oracle’s Primavera 6, builders typically generated only one schedule based on the experiential knowledge of seasoned schedulers.
In recent years, ALICE Technologies has harnessed the power of generative AI to enhance the process of scheduling capital projects such as bridges, data centers, and oil processing plants. ALICE empowers companies to create thousands of potential construction schedules and to experiment with promising alternatives using “what if” analysis. This innovative capability allows for the development of construction project schedules that not only reduce delivery time and cost but also mitigate risks. The ability to iterate swiftly (without placing an undue burden on schedulers and planners) enables speedy realignment with current project conditions, unlocking efficiencies which help project managers utilize time and teams more effectively.
Another innovative AI-driven solution for reducing construction project pain points is OpenSpace, a tool designed to relieve the burdens of project documentation. By leveraging cutting-edge technology to automate job site documentation and data transfer, OpenSpace helps improve communication between project stakeholders. Seamless integration between popular construction management platforms (such as ProCore and BIM 360) helps streamline collaboration between on-site and off-site personnel, enabling them to make data-driven decisions with significant savings of time and resources.
The above solutions all demonstrate harmonious integration between AI-driven tools and their human operators, highlighting ways in which practical deployment of this technology can help relieve common challenges and shape the future of construction.
While the sensational achievements of AI may capture more attention, its more practical applications and achievements hold the greatest promise for transforming our world. When it comes to construction, these companies exemplify AI’s current role in improving fundamental aspects of construction and in resolving the industry’s most common challenges. As the industry’s integration of AI technologies continues to unfold, it will undoubtedly deliver substantial changes influential to sectors and industries far beyond construction itself.