Disruption in Construction

Technology in the construction industry

New methods have made it quicker and easier for buildings to be created, and materials science is helping to discover stronger, more durable tools. As the world’s population continues to rise, creating quality housing is a key concern. In theory, disruption in construction should make it easier to answer the demand for accommodation. But how have these technologies changed the construction industry itself, and what does the future hold?

1. 3D and 4D printing

In 2014, Chinese construction company WinSun Global revealed their first 3D printed houses, created with a 22-foot-tall industrial printer. To begin with, they printed single rooms and then put them together. Since then, the company has built entire structures. A host of other companies are experimenting with 3D printed houses, and 3D printing isn’t limited to constructions themselves, either. UrbanAlps, for example, has created 3D printed keys. In future, construction could also be affected by 4D printing. The technique is currently under development at MIT’s Self Assembly Lab, and hopes to produce objects that react to the world around them when prompted by certain stimuli. Instead of many regular maintenance tasks, 4D printed houses would have some ability to take care of themselves.

2. Drones

Drones are now used to inspect building sites, equipped with advanced lenses, high quality image capture and real time data transmission. This removes the need for a human inspector to put themselves at risk in an unfinished block of flats, for example. Data collected by drones allows for pre-construction simulations, so construction companies can work out what designs will be the most appropriate. Drone photographs have also been used to settle disputes between employees, allowing management teams to see exactly how far projects have progressed. Additionally, these photos can be turned into useful 3D site models via photogrammetry.

3. Augmented Reality

AR has a plethora of different uses in construction, from maintenance work to design and planning. Workers could use Augmented Reality headsets to better visualise blueprints, and even carry out repairs or modifications with a digital guide. The DAQRI Smart Helmet lets wearers do exactly that via a sensor bar, HD display and high resolution cameras. AR can send information in real time, helping control teams to predict the outcome of certain actions or decisions. This has the potential to save both time and money. Visualisation technology (including Virtual Reality) also means that businesses can collaborate with clients and contractors, giving external parties a clear, visual idea of what the project will look like and how it is progressing.

4. Artificial Intelligence

AI is disrupting just about every industry going, and construction is no exception. Due to the development of body recognition security, future houses will need to be built with new security protocols in mind. Jaguar, for example, is working on machine learning software which recognises their owner’s walking gait. If a car can eventually do this, you can be sure that houses will too. On the building site itself, workers can don smart helmets integrated with Intellitrack, a software programme which can recognise products and equipment. As well as this, AI is used to collate and analyse important data from connected robotics, including aerial drones.

5. Advanced robotics

Industrial robots are taking on remote, automated construction tasks. Just like drones, they remove the need for human workers in potentially dangerous situations. German startup RoboticsX is particularly ambitious, and aims to send construction bots to undertake building work on Mars. Robotics might not be a new addition in industries that rely on manual work, however advanced robots are a completely different story. They are far more dextrous and responsive than their predecessors, and can complete complicated engineering processes.

The surge of technology in the construction industry has clearly been positively disruptive, presenting a solution to the need for housing and improving efficiency. 3D printing is streamlining the building process, VR and AR are enabling all parties to visualise designs before they are built, AI is changing the way construction firms use data and think about security, and drones and robotics are taking on risky, menial tasks.

In future, Materials Science could lead to stronger building resources which, combined with 4D printing, could react to the environment. Despite these benefits, disrupting a traditional, labour focused sector will lead to unemployment. Nonetheless, human operators will be needed to make important decisions based on data, and make sure automated machines function correctly. Ultimately, disruption in construction is a promising trend which will be instrumental in coping with mass demand for housing.