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Costain and Winvic help develop AI hard hats

15 October 2019 | By Neil Gerrard

Image supplied by UWE Bristol

Construction workers could soon use voice-activated technology that sends real-time audio instructions into their earpiece and projects augmented reality (AR) graphics onto their helmet visor.

That’s according to the University of West England (UWE Bristol), which is developing a system using artificial intelligence (AI) to voice and display information, removing the need for walkie talkies and hard copies of blueprints.

The technology is being developed by UWE Bristol’s Big Data Enterprise and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (Big-DEAL) alongside Costain, Winvic, TerOpta, Enable My Team, and Geo Green Power.

UWE claimed that the three-year, £1.86m project, funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will help improve worker safety, productivity and efficiency.

The system harnesses conversational AI, which allows users to ask for and receive information in real time verbally from a computer, in the same way as Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

Typical commands could include: “Show me building plans” or “show me construction sequence”, prompting the system to supply on-screen information, or instructions such as where to insert a screw in a structure. A guiding system using arrows on the head-mounted display or a hand-held device, could also show workers how to get to a specific area. 

Location data

The system could also provide project managers with access co-workers’ timesheets and let them know where they are located on site at any given time, as well as the status of various elements of the project.

Professor Lukumon Oyedele, assistant vice-chancellor for digital innovation and enterprise at UWE Bristol, said: “Until now, conversational AI has mostly been used in labs and controlled settings. Here we are bringing it into a construction environment, where workers are using their hands and need a quick and effective way to gather information.

“One of the many challenges is to ensure that the instructions are audible and stand out, given that there is a lot of background noise on a busy construction site. We are therefore looking at technologies including noise-cancellation to allow for this.

“We hope that this technology will augment workers’ capabilities, to make construction more efficient. It is about improving worker’s productivity, ensuring a faster delivery process and getting it right the first time by avoiding defects.”

Tim Reeve, technical director at Winvic Construction, said: “It’s a real honour to be working with professor Oyedele on his research project. AI can have relevant applications in unexpected places, and Winvic is eager to test the voice-activated headset that our data is helping to create.

“As our main focus is meeting clients’ needs – from a practical delivery point of view and also commercially – it was a natural progression for Winvic to become an early adopter of state-of-the-art BIM (Building Information Modelling) technology and we remain committed to digitally transforming construction.” 

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