The potential for artificial intelligence in construction

The mass urbanisation of the globe has lent itself to massive growth for the construction industry, which is the world’s largest ecosystem according to McKinsey. A recent report stated that the global construction market is expected to expand by $4.5tn to $15.2tn in the next decade and grow by up to 35% compared with the previous decade, propelled by unexpected levels of stimulus spending on infrastructure among other factors.

This rapid growth is particularly visible in the UAE, where the construction industry has always and will continue to play a significant role in the country’s economy. Up and coming areas like Dubai Hills, the recently announced Expo City Dubai and Dubailand, among others are ripe for construction. According to a report by Mordor Intelligence, the UAE construction industry is expected to reach a value of $133.53bn by 2027, registering a CAGR of 4.69% over the forecast period from now to 2027.

By 2050, it’s estimated that more than half (nearly 68%) of the world’s population will be residing in urban environments and hence the need to focus on smart cities is now. In today’s day and age, modern construction companies face fierce competition and demand to stay ahead of the curve and capture market share in this ever-evolving world. The only way to keep up is to incorporate advanced technology to hasten the pace and improve the quality of construction.

BusinessWire reported that individuals and businesses spend over $10tn on construction-related activities annually, which is projected to bloom further by 4.2% until 2023. A big part of this spending is on technological advancements to bolster the effectiveness of the construction ecosystem. In their 2020 report on how disruption is shaping construction, McKinsey revealed that there is a growing focus on solutions that incorporate Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI has a strong place in the industry with the potential to drive it forward.

In the UAE, the next 10 years will be a defining decade for AI as the UAE government has ambitious plans to establish the country as a global AI hub, according to a survey conducted by YouGov to diversify the country’s economy beyond oil.

With such a harmonious relationship between construction and AI, there is ample potential for the technology to continue developing.

Examples of AI in construction

The applications are enormous – from spotting dangerous activity to monitoring productivity levels, AI helps make sites safer, more efficient and productive. The following gives some insight into the true power of AI in construction:

Generative design

One of AI’s greatest strengths is its ability to explore different variations of a model to find the best option – this is known as ‘generative design’. This could be useful for designers using Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology, which allows people to see 3D models of each phase of the project during construction to efficiently plan, design, construct and manage buildings and infrastructure. AI would take a BIM model and explore tens of thousands of minor and major design changes to make a design safer, more stable, or simply cost-effective and faster to build. For a human to explore all these possibilities would require months – an AI engineering programme could do so in hours.

Project management & planning

Construction projects frequently become delayed or experience cost overruns – even with skilled project managers overseeing them. However, research shows that AI forecasting algorithms have proven highly accurate in estimating cost overruns of projects. AI systems can also assess the budgets from previous projects — including material costs, inflation rates, labor costs etc.— to forecast budgets for future projects.

Project managers could use AI-enhanced project portfolio management software that identifies how likely their plans are to be delayed. By integrating these potential issues into the budget, AI could help them revise projects costs and find ways to manage time and resources better.

Robotics

AI construction robotics represents an exciting possibility for saving time and reducing risk. Firms are already providing bulldozers and excavators that can be given defined tasks and work alone.

This kind of technology could save enormous sums of money and make projects progress faster. Imagine a project in a remote location that is difficult to get workers to – remote diggers could work 24/7 clearing sites and get the work done much faster.

Autonomous vehicles

Self-driving equipment and drones give builders new perspectives on projects and progress. Drones are trained to ‘understand’ what they are seeing from a bird’s-eye view of the site. The information gathered from drones can help AI systems optimise future building projects by giving the software data on the project progress from a different perspective than the ground level.

Predictive maintenance

AI is very effective at analysing historical data and using this to create likely forecasts of future events. The data that apps like PlanRadar collect could feasibly be used to train a machine to spot patterns in maintenance issues and locations.

Picture an AI system that assesses several damage or issue reports for different kinds of buildings over time, as well as information from IoT sensors. Eventually, it could begin to predict when certain surfaces, fittings or materials will be worn down and direct maintenance teams to the area for optimal security and safety.

Robotics, AI, and the Internet of Things can alter the business model and make the process of project completion more efficient while reducing building costs by up to 20%. Decision-makers at construction companies make AI investment a priority. The early movers will set the trend for the industry and see the perks in the long run.

Read more:

  • Digital Construction Summit to take place on 14 September in Dubai
  • AI in construction won’t be taking jobs, it will save lives
  • TRSDC and Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority ink deal focused on innovation in smart technology

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