The future will see you now

Stephanie Bentley

Prop Tech Product Executive, Data and Information Products Group (RICS)

Technology and the ever-increasing availability of data is changing almost every aspect of the way we live our lives, from the way we travel and communicate to the way we design, construct and respond to the built environment. We caught up with leading thinkers at the UK-based event series Digital Construction Week (DCW). Here's what we learned.

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Data is the fuel for new ideas

Data drives the largest companies in the world and many of the smallest ones too. The cloud is the pipeline for that data and as we capture more and more of it using tools like drones, Building Information Models (BIM) and laser scanners, machines are being programmed to learn faster and faster. Leading technologists at DCW suggest that this in turn is transforming the way we design and create things.

Algorithmic design

Machines are excellent at problem-solving, dealing with constraints and making decisions based on past experience and they are therefore increasingly being used to streamline the design process. Whereas traditional design tools passively await our instruction, algorithmic design can anticipate our needs based on vast amounts of data and computing power in order to help us discover the best design possible for the problem that we want to solve. Examples include directing our decisions around the optimum placing of partition walls or the design of staircases based on the surrounding environment. 

Autopilot in construction

Machines are already able to use data to predict the risks involved with construction projects, thereby improving health and safety on construction sites, and buildings are getting smarter as technology which monitors energy, lighting, air conditioning and other systems found within a building rapidly develops. Machines are also being used to provide automatic descriptions and classifications of on-site issues, such as damp or roof problems, as well as in the construction of buildings themselves.

What may at first seem like convenience tools will become features of social change

Big data and the cloud are giving way to smarter and faster technologies and as the cost of innovation decreases, change is happening faster and faster. Senior Director, Machine Intelligence at Autodesk, Mike Haley suggests that as individuals (and machines) are increasingly given more and more freedom to bring innovative ideas to life, we’re witnessing small but significant changes in the mind-sets of employees.

Conducting small, constant changes in the way individuals and businesses operate can have huge implications for whether a company succeeds and remains relevant or becomes obsolete.

We can hold the tools in our hands, but we can no longer hold them in our heads

As we increasingly give machines more freedom to create things independently of us, they rely less and less on us for direction. Vice President of Marketing at Graphisoft Ákos Pfemeter argues that although we can hold new technologies in our hand, the way they operate and provide us with the information we want to know will increasingly go beyond our comprehension.

However, the point was made that just because methods of machines may be inscrutable to us, does not mean that they’re untrustworthy or unreliable; in fact, they’re often at least as good as us (and often better) at things like voice and facial recognition, detecting diseases and avoiding obstacles.

Technologies that are already making a real difference to the construction industry

  • Drones — used to capture live data from sites.
  • Virtual reality/augmented reality/mixed reality — Managing Director at BAM Construction Andrew Pryke predicts that by 2020, $120 billion will be spent on augmented reality and a further $30 billion on virtual reality. These technologies will increasingly be used to train individuals doing high-risk tasks, to track progress on site, and to make smarter decisions about the design and construction buildings.
  • Artificial intelligence/machine learning — used to transform the way we design and create things. Leading scientists have predicted that machines will be faster, smarter and more logical than us by 2040.
  • BIM — driving-down verification costs and continually monitoring a building, BIM can be used throughout the entire lifecycle of a building to save both time and money.

These are just some of the technologies that are currently shaping the future of the industry. However, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the future has yet to happen so no one can say for certain what it will hold — there’s everything to play for.

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