At the AEMP Shift Conference, last month in San Antonio, keynote speaker Prakash Iyer spoke on the future of technology in construction. Iyer, Vice President Software Architecture and Strategy, at Trimble Navigation Ltd., shared ten key technologies he believes will be instrumental in changing the construction world of tomorrow. He highlighted four of these technologies in his presentation:
- Artificial Intelligence
- The Internet of Things
- Computer Vision
- Augmented Reality
“All this technology, combined with cloud computing will create new construction ecosystems,” Iyer says. “It brings designers, contractors, and operators into a seamlessly integrated work process. Every stakeholder can share, review, coordinate anywhere, anytime.”
Growing up, artificial intelligence was relegated to a fantasy world, typically depicted as a replicator or transporter, and primarily employed on a starship. Now, seemingly overnight, AI has become a very integral part of our daily lives. AI is the software that makes online shopping a reality, initiates the newsfeed on your smartphone, and is instrumental in the launch of self-driving cars. It’s something we benefit from every day and something that keeps getting smarter every day. “By 2020 a smartphone will have more computing power than today’s supercomputers, and that will enable a lot of AI,” says Iyer.
AI involves a process called machine learning. Using algorithms, AI enables a machine to learn from the data it's exposed to. The more data a machine's exposed to, the better it becomes at understanding and providing insights. But how does that translate to the construction industry?
The volume of data generated on the average construction site is huge: images captured via mobile devices, drone videos, security sensors, machine telematics, Building Information Modeling (BIM), and remote control machinery. The challenge doesn’t lie in capturing the data, but implementing a system capable of managing the data.
The Internet of Things
The IoT revolves around increased machine-to-machine communication; it’s built on cloud computing and networks of data-gathering sensors. A sensor is not a machine—it doesn’t do anything in the same sense that a machine does. A sensor only measures, evaluates and gathers data. The real value the IoT creates is gathering data and leveraging it. Cloud-based applications are the key to using leveraged data. The IoT can’t function without cloud-based applications to interpret and transmit the data coming from sensors. It’s the cloud that enables the apps to go to work for you anytime, anywhere. “Soon there will be one trillion connected devices in the world constituting the IoT,” Iyer says. “That’s 140 devices for every human being on earth.”
Most people are familiar with computer vision. In fact, your car is probably already equipped with the technology. An automobile with front/rear object detection systems or the capability of detecting lane departures has computer vision. Essentially, “Your car is now a thinking machine, constantly looking at the surroundings,” Iyer says. This data, when compiled, helps transportation planners predict road conditions and make adjustments to traffic flow in real time. As we develop more "smart roads" more data will be readily available and the IoT network will already be in place.
AR made its debut in the gaming world. Pokemon Go is a great example of how AR was introduced to the masses, effectively demonstrating the technology’s potential as a new platform for engagement. AR in the construction world provides a very realistic meld of the digital and physical planes. Iyer cites the collaboration of Trimble with Microsoft and their HoloLens. By putting on the goggles and viewing a model created with SketchUp, using SketchUp Viewer one is immersed in a 3D digitally designed building, civil engineering project, or mine. This gives the wearer the ability to “walk around” inside a virtual world and examine the model to discover design flaws or conflicts that might not be apparent in traditional 2D drawings.