Construction firms and companies serving the construction industry tend to be risk-averse. Their resistance to next-big-things is justifiable, given the scope of their work. When your annual revenue relies on the success of one or two major projects, you can’t afford to tinker with a tried-and-true formula.
Unfortunately, this attitude also affects how quickly construction-industry firms adopt new technologies. Relative to other sectors, builders, developers, and other construction companies are extremely slow to integrate high-tech solutions like automation, robotics, and data analytics.
Now more than ever, firms in any industry must stay on top of the wave of emerging technology or risk being left behind. Construction-related companies are not an exception to this rule — in fact, their success might be uniquely dependent on how quickly they can adapt.
Here are four tech trends that the construction industry needs to keep an eye on in 2018.
AUTONOMOUS CONSTRUCTION EQUIPMENT
The media loves to cover self-driving cars, which are currently being developed by everyone from Ford to Apple. After years of being exposed to these stories, it has become easy to imagine a morning commute without people in the driver’s seat.
It’s more difficult to imagine an excavator or front loader without a human operator, but that hasn’t stopped Silicon Valley firm Built Robotics from trying. Using vibration-proof lidar sensors, GPS, and roof-mounted on-board computers, their front loader can autonomously move earth in coordination with the plans for a building’s foundation.
Unlike consumer-focused self-driving vehicles, which have to contend with other cars, drivers, and road rules, autonomous construction vehicles work in a relatively controlled environment. This allows engineers to focus their efforts on more challenging tasks, like digging a foundation, rather than just trying to avoid collisions and stay in the lines.
It might sound like a pipe dream, but venture capitalists don’t think so — Built Robotics currently has $15 million in funding.
DRONES ON THE JOB SITE
Unmanned aerial vehicles (also known as UAVs, drones, or quadcopters) have graduated beyond the label of “emerging technology.” They’ve been growing in popularity for hobbyists, who like to build, fly, and race them, and their indisputable cool factor has made them a sought-after holiday gift.
What is an emerging trend, however, is the use of drones for more than just having fun. Drones have steadily gained a foothold in industries from mall security to industrial pipeline inspection, where they can fly autonomously and use high-definition cameras and machine learning to scan their surroundings for out-of-the-ordinary behavior or suspected problem areas.
In construction, drones serve a number of purposes, including collecting aerial photographs for more robust visual documentation. UAVs can go where photographers can’t safely, helping contractors, developers, inspectors, and others see their building projects from new angles and even reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
VIRTUAL REALITY SAFETY TRAINING
Virtual reality technology, or VR, is alternately hailed as the future of the computer industry or the next Segway. Anyone who’s used it knows how extraordinarily cool it is, but the excitement people feel in the headset is quickly tempered by VR’s lack of practical applications.
Companies like STRIVR are attempting to change all that, by creating VR-based job training simulators for everything from the NFL to Walmart. STRIVR also services the construction industry, where their unique kind of training could be especially useful. Imagine being able to teach new employees about key safety procedures in a virtual construction environment, before they ever step foot on an active, dangerous job site.
The idea of “3D printing a house” has been on the minds of engineers since 3D printing first entered the public conversation. Progress on this front has been slow, but today, we’re closer than ever to pushing a robot onto a lot, walking away, and returning the next day to find a finished home surrounding it.
One team at MIT has demonstrated a robotic 3D printer that moves on treads rather than articulating an arm on a gantry, allowing it to be much more mobile and print over a larger surface area than traditional printers. Their printer uses a combination of foam and concrete to create complete structures in just hours, complete with cavities for plumbing, HVAC, and wiring.
Not all of these technologies are market-ready, and a few of them are likely years away from being truly practical. But there are an array of proven,affordable, available tech solutions that construction firms can take advantage of today. In 2018, being risk-averse when it comes to technology is no longer a benefit. How will you get in front of these construction industry trends?