The following is the first in a series of posts providing insights into how trends on display at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will drive innovation in the built environment.
The evolution of technology continues to accelerate, and with it the impact it has on how we design and construct the built environment. McKinstry is already using many newer technologies. We use building information modeling (BIM) for 3-D modelling and detailing, digitally enhanced pre-fabrication and kitting in our state-of-the-art shop. On the job site, our use of collaboration software and on-site data vaults—and even moving to handheld devices for reviewing specs, plans and creating as-builts—means we never need to go back to the job trailer. Technology has dramatically improved how we deliver work and there is no end in sight.
CES 2018 showcased several emerging technologies that portend the future of construction and will be implemented on the jobsite of tomorrow.
Wearable tech meets jobsite safety
Wearable technology is a focal point of the technology revolution. Wearables have countless applications in the construction industry and will likely be a standard expectation on the jobsite of tomorrow. The most exciting aspect of wearable technology is the potential to make the jobsite safer. For instance, working in hot environments will be made safer with technologies such as intelligent cooling vests that track and regulate body temperature and hydration. Or, work boots with intelligent insoles that track the location, position (standing, kneeling, sitting, laying down) and even the exhaustion level of the worker wearing them. Imagine the impact of boots or other wearables that could automatically send an alert if they detect a fall and could even guide responders to a person’s location.
Companies like Hyundai have revealed plans and demos for wearable exoskeletons that will enable factory workers to lift heavier objects, and construction workers to move heavier materials. This kind of technology could virtually eliminate painful back injuries that account for one of every five workplace injuries or illnesses according to the Bureau of Labor. We’re already seeing some of our general contracting partners testing out exoskeletons in the field.
It is more than safety equipment, though. As the price for cameras and cloud storage continues to decline, expect hardhats to have integrated 360-degree cameras that can capture video and photos from the jobsite and update a visual database every night. Architects and engineers are already using Virtual Reality (VR) headsets to put clients and designers into the to-be-built environment in the most immersive way. The next evolution will add Augmented Reality (AR) to safety glasses or an integrated hardhat faceshield so field teams can pull up live 3-D drawings and overlay them in the environment they are working. It’s exciting to think about the deployment of this technology. Just think, an AR device could visually inform workers of the correct place to drill an anchor or place a conduit or duct. Installers would be able to pull up spec sheets, equipment manuals and more while they are in the field, and they would do it hands free.
At McKinstry, we’re already realizing the benefits of AR. Our Audio Visual (AV) team recently performed a site survey for Nordstrom in Colorado, all while the AV engineer never left his desk in Seattle. Instead of taking time and expense to fly an employee several states away, McKinstry sent a pair of Vizux AR glasses to our Colorado office, where a local employee made a short trip to the jobsite to conduct the survey while the AV engineer participated remotely. The Vizux glasses provided and recorded real-time video and two-way audio, permitting the engineer in Seattle to review the site like he was there in person.
Drones, drones and more drones
Drones continue to gain traction in the press and in our homes, and CES has a well-earned reputation as the center of the drone-iverse. However, it isn’t just about consumer-level drones that automatically follow you and take selfies of you and your friends, controlled completely through gestures (yep, that’s a real thing). Drones are increasingly being applied in commercial settings.
Smaller drones are being outfitted with 4K cameras, and even Lidar, a surveying technology that uses lasers to measure distance. These drones can perform a full exterior and/or interior scan of a building or site and create a workable 3-D model in a fraction of the time of traditional methods. Weighing as little as half a pound and small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, these drones are already being used to survey more open areas being built out for solar or wind energy projects. They also provide a safe and quick way to inspect dangerous sites (refineries, substations), confined spaces or the inside of equipment like boilers and fuel tanks.
Drones will also be used for the transportation of materials, and even people, before you know it. CES showcased 18-foot-long drones capable of lifting over 500 lbs. Some of these drones are currently being used to airlift medical and survival supplies in remote regions of East Africa. Multiple companies showed drones designed to carry human passengers, and the inaugural flight of the Workhorse Surefly, a two-person drone, was cancelled due to weather on the final day. Bell Helicopter and Uber shared plans (and a full-size simulator) for drones capable of carrying four people. While power issues (these drones can only operate about 20-60 minutes without a power tether) and FAA regulations may slow down the rollout of these larger drones to the U.S. market, it appears inevitable that drones will be used to deliver supplies, and perhaps even people, to the jobsite of tomorrow.
Autonomous vehicles will also be a factor on jobsites in the future. Visualize fields being cleared by unmanned excavators and bull dozers and deliveries being made by self-driving cargo trucks among other uses.
3-D printing goes industrial
Let’s not forget advances in technologies we have been hearing about for years now. 3-D printing continues to grow in capability. One booth at CES had nine 3-D printers making all the parts required for an additional 20 3-D printers. And it’s not just about small plastics anymore. Current 3-D printers can produce much larger items as well as work with metal, including threaded parts. One company was 3-D printing steel beams! They can even take a 3-D scan of an existing item and print out a replica, or print it based on digital instructions. Imagine not having to wait for that special-order part, but instead downloading the plans electronically and printing it on demand—this is the jobsite of tomorrow.
We also hear a lot about telematics. The McKinstry fleet already includes telematics that can track location, speed, cornering and other data. Telematics will become prevalent in tracking hand tools soon. You’ll be able to pull up a map of your jobsite and see every tool you have and where it’s located. The system will run a nightly inventory and inform you if tools are missing or in the wrong place. You can even install it in a vehicle to run an inventory every time it arrives at or leaves a jobsite and alerts you, “Hello Dave, it appears you left your drill on the jobsite, might want to grab that before we leave.” This can apply to major pieces of equipment and even materials, tracking them from the shop to the jobsite and all the way to their final installed location.
Telematics won’t just be for non-human objects; people will eventually be part of them. While this raises concerns about privacy, these concerns will likely be diluted over time by an incoming generation accustomed to (and comfortable with) having their location and activities tracked by smart phones and devices. Telematics will give us the ability to accumulate data on foot traffic patterns, distance traveled from material location to work location, time spent waiting on man-lift access, and will allow companies to improve site logistics and reduce the cost of construction and wasted downtime.
The 5G connection
All these technologies require a communication channel, and every single one is set up to communicate wirelessly. It’s likely most of them will be designed to take advantage of 5G. WiFi, Bluetooth and similar technologies will have a major place in connecting jobsite technologies of the future.
In our next post, we’ll explore the world of 5G and other wireless communication solutions on display at CES. Until then, please join me in dreaming about the jobsite of tomorrow.
Sam Rathert is the director of McKinstry’s Data Services team.