Is AI construction’s next big thing?
Image: Dzmitry Ryzhykau/Dreamstime.com
Artificial intelligence is no longer the preserve of science fiction, writes Tom Oulton.
Every year or so, the construction industry is dominated by talk of a next “big thing” that promises to transform the industry.
Almost inevitably this is accompanied by a bandwagon of hype, underwhelming incremental improvements or outright deception – greenwash, BIMwash – but once this passes we can separate the wheat from the chaff. BIM works well when properly executed across the whole life cycle. Sustainability is a now a central consideration for all construction projects.
The hype machine is in full force again, but is artificial intelligence and related technologies such as machine learning any different?
“What opportunities are there for artificial intelligence to go beyond what humans can do on their own, and transform the way we build?”
Tom Oulton, Turner & Townsend
Though associated with science fiction, there are plenty of real-world examples of artificial intelligence being deployed in construction. Machines can execute tasks previously carried out by humans, which will produce modest efficiency and productivity gains. But what opportunities are there for artificial intelligence to go beyond what humans can do on their own, and transform the way we build?
There are current real-world examples across the construction life cycle. During the design phase, parametric BIM tools such as the Grasshopper-Tekla live link allow structural engineers to quickly create complex shapes and solve difficult architectural problems.
During the delivery phase, nPlan is using machine learning to look at millions of data points from historic projects to predict outcomes and anticipate risk. And during the operational phase, IBM uses machine learning in its predictive maintenance software modelling so that repairs can be identified early and any downtime minimised.
Artificial intelligence can transform construction. The best way to realise its potential is though collaborative working among clients, industry and users.
Tom Oulton is principal consultant at Turner & Townsend and chair of the Constructing Excellence digital group