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AI Is Transforming the Construction Industry — 5 Examples



It’s difficult to separate AI hype from reality these days. Aside from a handful of true experts working at the field’s cutting edge, no one has a good handle on the state of play.  

We can all see that AI is changing the world around us though. Its disruptive potential will only increase as the already-huge amount of computing power devoted to AI grows.

Construction is one of the many industries where AI is making its mark right now, and the technology’s most promising applications haven’t even deployed yet. In the years to come, they will — and they’ll change the construction business forever.

For now, let’s take a look at five AI applications that construction and building design professionals can take advantage of right now (or soon).

 

1. Generative AI Is Streamlining & Improving the Design Process

Younger architects can’t even conceive of a time when building plans were hand-drafted. They take computer-aided design (CAD) programs for granted.  

We’re in the midst of a similar transition in building information modeling (BIM), though it’s likely to feel more incremental for insiders. The general trend is from adequate but relatively inflexible BIM tools to more capable versions built around generative AI models. Like protein-design models used in the life sciences industry, these more powerful BIM tools could help refine existing designs — saving human designers time — or develop entirely new, more efficient ones.

 

2. AI Can Identify & Handicap Construction Risks 

Insurance companies and others in the risk business already use AI to identify potential threats and relationships between them. Soon, builders could as well.

That’s an important capability for developers and general contractors running big, complicated jobs. Commonsense safety protocols can’t entirely eliminate physical threats from the job site, and those that remain may be the sort of low-probability, high-impact threats site managers don’t spend enough time thinking about. 

Drones used in conjunction with AI can help identify potential handicap construction issues, low lighting, fall protection, potholes and other risks in existing buildings.

 

3. AI Is the Foundation for Nextgen Project Budgeting & Management Tools

AI’s risk-detection and -mitigation capabilities are among its many benefits for project managers. Modern enterprise-grade project management platforms already utilize AI to some extent and have considerable upside potential as the underlying models improve. Current or possible future value-adds include:

  • Site mapping and progress monitoring using drones equipped with machine vision cameras

  • Optimized materials ordering that can reduce downtime while awaiting shipments

  • Optimized subcontractor scheduling for reduced downtime

  • Autonomous or semi-autonomous heavy equipment for larger or more remote job sites

  • Autonomous safety monitoring systems that can identify potential procedural violations (such as workers not wearing required safety equipment)

 

4. Automated Assembly Lines Could Drive a Modular Construction Boom

Amid an ongoing labor shortage in construction and the skilled trades, many developers and builders are betting on a modular future. 

Modular building fabrication has been around for years, but recent advances in production design and automation could soon bring its cost in line with (and eventually below) traditional construction methods. Key to this transition — if and as it occurs — will be improvements in factory automation and continued AI-aided refinements in onsite assembly.

 

5. Smart(er) Building Systems Could Boost End-User Satisfaction

Smart building systems are increasingly common in new construction. They’re often cost-effective to retrofit as well.

As continued AI refinements improve these solutions, end-users will see their benefits even more clearly than they already do. Optimized climate control, responsive lighting management, set-it-and-forget-it security — these are “no-brainer” value-adds in an increasingly automated built environment.

 

Final Thoughts

We need to be careful when we talk about AI, and not just for fear of offending our future robot overlords. 

 Like many tech trends before it, the AI boom features a great deal of hype that’s difficult for non-experts to evaluate. Because most of us aren’t equipped to look at a particular AI solution and determine whether it’s a legitimate value-add or nothing but vaporware, caution is warranted.

That said, AI will absolutely improve the construction industry. We ignore it at our own risk.



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