Clothing that will detect which worker on your job is costing you money through frequent mistakes; a building responding to changes in the position of the sun; architects, builders and designers crowd-sourcing their building plans for optimal use; robots swarming a construction site building based on an embedded set of blueprints with drones flying above, surveying or supervising building activities aren’t a fascination adapted from a futuristic sci-fi novel–they are becoming a reality. These are the current capabilities penetrating a once deemed “inflexible” industry. With innovation happening at the speed of light, we’re entering the modern age of construction. Technology is transforming construction, bringing forth a whole new realm of invention aimed at making the industry safer, more efficient, and increasingly profitable, all while reducing our carbon footprint.
Technology inspires the planning phases
The term data-informed design has pervaded the industry. There are various uses for data gathered from social media, feedback apps, and “data exhaust” from mobile technology. Architects and designers are able to receive real-time, end-user feedback to help influence how they design their structures taking into consideration how users will interact with a building or campus.
Analyzing foot traffic, energy usage, and even listening to social media conversations that indicate a user’s frustrations or desires are being looked at to enable smarter design. For example, if an architect is doing a renovation on a university campus, monitoring current student traffic can relay information to the architect about where and when certain elements of their design should be implemented. If students prefer to enter a building on the south side because it is more convenient for them to access off the street but the main entrance is on the north side, this information could influence the architect to rearrange the main entrance to the south side.
Using BIM for so much more than architectural planning
With BIM software, the amount of data associated with the digital representation of a facility opens up a world of possibilities. Beyond viewing a 3D example of the architectural plans, energy analysis, carbon data, lead daylight, water use and renewable energy can also be determined through data analysis. Simulation tools that interplay with BIM software can inform planning and building design to ensure better energy conservation. With the data learned prior to building, and that garnered once the building is in use, future designs can take the information and more precisely predict energy needs and costs––shifting systems and requirements where observed changes in usage has been shown.
Using sensors, buildings are learning how to respond to changes in sunlight, temperature, and other conditions that affect their ability to conserve energy. Climate responsive buildings adapt their color, shape, or form based on real time data transferred from the building’s sensors. The ORAMBRA prairie house in Illinois is an example of use of thermo or photo chromatic links––allowing the internal membrane of the house to turn lighter on warmer days and darker on colder days. While a small example of helping energy conservation, buildings that change shape––expand during hot seasons and shrink during cold seasons––take a further step into larger energy conservation efforts. Biomimicry, the science and art of emulating Nature's best biological ideas to solve human problems, has entered the construction industry. Using responsive design, buildings are being built that mechanize their design to shift based on the data received from sensors within the building or nature’s changing weather conditions. For example, the Esplanade Theater in Singapore has an elaborate building exterior modeled after the multilayered Durian plant. The theater’s exterior shading system adjusts throughout the day based on the shift of the sun to protect the interior of the building from overheating.
With the copious amounts of data floating around us, the future lies in harnessing data, effectively analyzing the data, and translating it into better planning, better design, and more functional environments.
Building in the Future
Sustainable, eco-conscious building will be at the forefront of construction for decades to follow as we learn how to harness new technology to complete projects. From eco-friendly building to worker safety and ingenious new ways to use technology to closely manage your job site, the construction industry is primed for an innovative wave that will transform current building processes.
Robots acting as laborers? That could be quite possibly the next big wave of invention for the construction industry.
3D Printing your Neighborhood
Everyday we are being transformed by technology. The emergence of 3D printing has engaged our creative minds as we explore the very real possibilities the technology holds in several industries. In construction, 3D printing would mean a sustainable, carbon-neutral fabrication with architectural flexibility and the ability to create housing quickly––sometimes in under 20 hours. China experimented with 3D printing erecting 10 single-level houses in 24 hours, then moving on to construct a five story, multi-family apartment building. However, with their larger scale project, smaller units were constructed off site and then assembled on site.
But that doesn’t mean the technology to construct larger buildings or houses on site using 3D printing doesn’t exist. In fact innovative builder Adam Kushner, of Kushner Studios, alongside Enrico Dini (D-Shape) have begun incorporating large-scale 3D building, designing a one-of-a-kind project. Kushner and Dini are constructing a massive 2400 square foot, four bedroom estate complete with an underground pool and poolhouse in New York. Using a large 3D printer, the process will take up to two years to build, with tweaks of the 3D equipment in order to meet scale. They will source local materials including rocks on site that will be crushed and combined with a binding agent to make the concrete structures––even toying with the idea of adding fiber, aluminum strands, or steel shavings to add tensile strength.
Taking 3D printing a step further, contour crafting, the brain-child of Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis of the University of Southern California, automates the entire building process of structures–– including sub-components––in a single run, even embedding conduits for electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems. His 3D printing technology provides architectural flexibility, potentially helping create entire neighborhoods at a fraction of the costs (reducing the costs of financing and materials), fraction of the time, and with more individuality and precision. The impact of this technology would be far reaching affecting the economics of construction, regulatory standards, and employment opportunities.
Construction has been depicted as an industry resistant to change, however there is no lack of innovation being implemented within the industry.
Robots swarming, drones buzzing and humans acting as conductors rather than laborers
Robots acting as laborers? That could be quite possibly the next big wave of invention for the construction industry. The technology to provide robots a blueprint of a structure, with a series of “traffic laws” that provide instruction on their specific movement patterns and delineate actions is being researched at Harvard University. Inspired by termites, this “swarm construction system,” TERMES, uses robots working together, taking 3D printed building modules and maneuvering them to form the desired building. The implications of this technology are far-reaching and not because robots could displace a human workforce, (at this point there’s speculation as to the feasibility of that), but because robots could be implemented in areas deemed too dangerous for humans, such as space exploration and construction.
Commonly used for surveying and inspections for areas workers can’t easily access, drones have increased in usage and popularity. However, their use could be expanded to actually performing aerial construction for things like tensile structures and three-dimensional suspension structures that are too difficult to be built conventionally.
Wearable Technology That Monitors Productivity
Imagine being able to identify who on your workforce is responsible for delays or having helmets that can identify carbon monoxide levels and create a warning indicating levels of danger. What about smart glasses that implement augmented reality which can be used to push information to people in the fields or demonstrate tactics or techniques when a worker needs support?
All of these technological advances are finding their way into construction projects as owners and project managers continue to find ways to streamline processes, collaborate and support safer, more productive work environments through wearable technology. As safety concerns on projects rise, safety gear should upgrade as well, incorporating health monitors that measure a worker’s vitals, or provide safety alarms or location-based alerts that are set when a worker enters a danger zone or restricted area.
These are not far-fetched concepts given our current technology era. Google Glass, Global Positioning Satellites, and Global Navigation Satellite Systems that currently exist can be used to show workers in real time locations, monitoring activity in detail. Biometric sensors are already being used in healthcare and their exploration into construction use could provide builders and project managers with useful information that can prevent workplace injuries or accidents related to health issues.
Construction has been depicted as an industry resistant to change, however there is no lack of innovation being implemented within the industry. While a few advancements were discussed above, the vast number of new ways technology is innervating the industry continues to grow. Every corner of the construction industry is being affected by technological advances that are helping the industry transcend and grow faster and with a more environmentally-friendly footprint. These are all welcome advancements as the industry continues to support a trillion dollar GDP and helps to support the foundation for economic stability.