CraneView™ is an AI-powered sensor device that captures crane data and turns it into actionable insights that improve project performance.

By James P. Barrett

 

Artificial intelligence (AI) is not just a buzzword or a slick, sci-fi term for the latest technological advancement—it is truly the catalyst of a new era of significant transformation and opportunity in the construction industry.

I firmly believe that AI is going to revolutionize our industry in the next 10 years more than any other technology has in the last 100 years. It promises to empower us to work smarter, safer, and much more efficiently.

AI involves designing algorithms that enable computers to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence, such as understanding natural language, recognizing data patterns, making decisions, and learning from experience. It spans a range of applications from simple to complex tasks, aiming to augment or automate human capabilities.

The latest frontier in its growth is Generative AI, which is transforming content creation and design in unprecedented ways, from generating text and images to conducting data analysis to producing extremely sophisticated simulations. Simply sit down and play around with Chat GPT for a few minutes and you will start to get a sense of the amazing new things that are possible.

Because Generative AI learns from extensive datasets to produce new, creative outputs, it holds tremendous potential to streamline design processes, enhance project management, and improve safety through its predictive capabilities. AI algorithms have the capability to analyze data from past projects to foresee outcomes, leading to better decision-making as a result. For instance, contractors can use historical data to identify potential financial or operational risks on a project. By combining this data with AI, they can compare it against past patterns and correlations to forecast the anticipated outcomes of future projects.

Moreover, construction site safety can be enhanced through AI-driven simulations that predict and prevent accidents before they occur. By analyzing various factors such as construction methods, materials, and worker movements, Generative AI can detect potential hazards and propose modifications to avoid them.

Drones and robots equipped with AI are at the forefront of this transformation. Drones are being used for aerial surveys of construction sites to provide real-time data and robots are being outfitted with laser scanners and 360-degree cameras to capture vital project data. These capabilities allow for more precise planning, better resource allocation, and timely adjustments to project plans.

Data captured by Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot provides Turner with an accurate and consistent record of construction progress that enhances production and quality control workflows.

Adopting AI in construction not only streamlines workflows and enhances creativity, doing so also promises a future where decisions are more data-driven and personalized. We are approaching a new era in which our limits are defined not by what we can imagine but by what we choose to do with AI.

Harnessing AI’s full potential requires fostering a culture of innovation. By offering training and practical “innovation labs” or “hackathons”, companies can empower staff to experiment with AI tools responsibly. It’s important to acknowledge and reward ideas and experiments, regardless of their immediate practicality, to reinforce the value of forward-thinking and calculated risk-taking. Involving employees in AI decisions also demystifies the technology, demonstrating its role as a tool to enhance, not replace, their work.

AI has the potential to level the playing field in the construction industry by enabling small contracting firms that come up with smart new ways of using this technology to establish competitive advantages in a market traditionally dominated by larger entities. By homing in on niche specializations and using AI to enhance operational efficiency, these smaller firms could provide innovative, high-quality solutions tailored to specific client requirements. Tools that streamline scheduling, resource allocation, and project management have the potential to enable these firms to execute projects more swiftly and with fewer resources. AI-powered design and simulation tools could equip them to offer solutions that meet client needs just as effectively as their larger counterparts.

Personalization plays a critical role in client engagement, and with AI these smaller firms could offer customized service experiences, thus building stronger, lasting client relationships. Moreover, by collaborating with AI tech providers or academic institutions, these smaller firms can gain access to the latest AI innovations without heavy in-house development overhead.

AI solutions can significantly enhance field operations by providing powerful insights for informed decision-making, optimizing processes, and increasing productivity.

By investing in AI training, small firms can enhance their workforce and create a culture of continuous improvement. On the cusp of a seismic shift in how we conceptualize, design, and construct the built environment, it’s crucial that our industry embraces this technology. Investing in AI is not just about staying competitive; it’s about leading the charge towards a more efficient, safe, and sustainable future. The time to prepare for AI’s impact is now, ensuring we remain at the forefront of this exciting revolution.


James P. Barrett is Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer of Turner Construction Company.