2021 Review of Construction Technology Trends
The past year has seen a great deal of transformation in construction technology. After a chaotic 2020, we’re now beginning to see how the industry has adapted in the wake of COVID-19 and the direction that construction companies are likely to take as the pandemic continues to wind down.
New autonomous robotics and data-analysis technologies are helping to transform how the industry uses robots, AI, IoT, and digital solutions of all kinds.
These are the construction technology trends that have dominated 2021. They are likely to shape how the industry will continue to change throughout the decade.
1. Growing Use of Augmented and Virtual Reality
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have emerged as powerful tools. They are used for both improving on-site data and streamlining training for new workers. Both technologies use computer-generated imagery, though in slightly different ways.
AR takes advantage of digital displays like smart glasses or smartphones. It then provides additional information or imagery to a user’s field of vision. An AR inspection app, for example, maybe used by a worker to highlight certain components during a repair or to visualize how missing parts fit into a machine. Other apps may act as digital tape measures, providing instant-read measurements of a given object or structure.
The technology can also allow an off-site worker to provide additional information to a worker on-site. “See what I see” applications of AR allow these off-site workers to annotate the live feed from an on-site worker’s environment. The more experienced worker can use this tech to remotely provide notes, direct workers, and highlight important details as needed — allowing a construction company to more effectively deliver knowledge where it is needed.
VR uses a headset to transport a user to a fully digital environment, typically complete with interactive features and audio. The technology is being used as an alternative to in-person training that provides a few major benefits over real-world classrooms. Virtual training, in addition to being safer and easier to automate, also enables training scenarios that are impossible or impractical in real-world classrooms.
For example, trainers could walk new employees through a building demolition safety course — complete with a simulated demolition of a structure — with little to no prior notice and no advanced setup required.
2. IoT Offers Real-Time Reports on Critical Assets
Internet of things (IoT) devices, advanced telematics, and other cutting-edge data-collection technology are helping construction companies track critical information relevant to construction jobs.
For example, an IoT sensor on a construction site may be used to measure temperature, vibration, pressure, and even lubrication of essential equipment. This information can be delivered automatically, via the cloud, to a centralized dashboard containing information from all the IoT sensors on a site.
With this dashboard, site managers have instant access to real-time data on the site. This allows them to more easily visualize maintenance issues or catch problems with machinery as they develop.
Telematics systems provide similar benefits but for heavy machinery and vehicles. The right sensor can provide real-time data on tire pressure, fuel, engine health, and vehicle location. This information can help businesses better manage their vehicle fleets in day-to-day work.
3. BIM and Digital Twins Streamline Site Management
Digital twins are digital representations of a construction site, machine, building, or other assets. Unlike other representations, digital twins feature an immense amount of detail. This detail enables the use of digital twins for simulations and testing and helps model real-world functionality.
These digital twins are an increasingly popular tool for construction companies wanting to automate and accelerate certain aspects of construction and building management.
Data from IoT devices can make these digital twins much more effective. Real-time information on building temperature, energy use, airflow, and air quality, for example, could enable extremely precise modeling of a building’s HVAC system and its performance.
The moment the system begins to perform unusually — for example, a filter becomes too clogged with dust to perform adequately — it can automatically alert building managers. This advanced notice allows them to more effectively schedule necessary maintenance or inspections.
Digital twin technology can also be extremely useful on construction sites. Real-time digital models can provide managers with a bird’s-eye view of site material consumption, traffic flows, job progress, and energy use allowing them to more easily spot inefficiencies, correct poor site layout, or provide progress updates to job stakeholders.
4. AI Improves Forecasts and Predictive Algorithms
In recent years, construction companies have begun using AI’s pattern-finding abilities to take full advantage of the growing amount of data that they collect on a daily basis. In 2020 and 2021, the use of AI in the industry continued to develop.
Right now, construction companies primarily use AI to automate tasks that simpler automation software can’t handle. For example, a company may be able to easily handle scheduling manually for smaller-scale projects. Such projects involve fewer workers, machines, and stakeholders. Larger projects can come with much more administrative overhead.
AI algorithms can automatically assist with scheduling to prevent delays, conflicts, and similar issues. Using pattern-recognition algorithms trained on historical scheduling data, AI can take in massive amounts of data related to a new project. As a result, it can automatically catch scheduling errors, uncover conflicts, and identify inefficiencies.
Artificial intelligence can also make forecasting much easier, helping businesses to plan for the future. The same algorithms can be used to run “what-if” scenarios or perform contingency planning.
Information needed to train these AI algorithms may be pulled from building information modeling tools, IoT sensors, or construction management software. Many AI tools can also take advantage of real-time data. This allows them to update their forecasts as conditions on the ground change.
How Construction Industry Technology Changed in 2021
In 2021, construction companies adopted new technologies. These technologies allowed them to gather more data, automate tasks, and more efficiently run construction sites. For instance tools like AR and VR are delivering construction knowledge where it is needed. IoT and telematics systems are gathering data that is useful on their own. They also support more complex solutions like BIM, digital twins, and AI algorithms.
These tools likely show us how the construction industry will continue to innovate through the rest of the decade. Data has become essential for the industry. Also, new data collection and analytics technologies will almost certainly become even more valuable over time.
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Rose Morrison is an AEC industry writer and the managing editor of Renovated. To read more of her work, check out her site.