Skip to content
Site search
picture of a circuitboard
Digital Transformation

Will construction sites be human-free by 2050?

The answer is probably not, but the reasons may surprise you.

Andrew Stanton, Unissu
9 January 2020

This article was originally published by Unissu

ConTech, which may or may not be a subset of PropTech, is in its infancy and receives only a tiny percentage of the tech sector funding budget, so in the next 30-years it is unlikely to become a mature technology. But, these two factors are not the main inhibitors to digital progress. 

Construction sites fall into the category of ‘the built world’ where data is driving a cleverer way to build productivity and communication through the supply chain. We have all heard about ‘smart’ or ‘automated buildings’ where linked tech, make the space more responsive. At present we are only tinkering at the edges, concentrating on making lived in space a more comfortable cave to hang out in, either at work or at home.

There are exceptions, like Distech Controls who design spaces which “integrate disparate building systems from multiple vendors into one open platform, and dashboards that provide insight and visibility into operations, alarms such as equipment faults, and trends including energy usage.”

Similarly, HB Reavis are blazing the trail in the built workspace sector, with a tech/holistic approach, or as they say Symbiosy – a “mutual symbiosis between a space and the people.” Projects like the Nivy Tower in Bratislava, the upcoming Vinohradska in Prague and DSTRCT Berlin. But though the design systems will be utilising tech, it will be humans creating the reality.

shanghai landscape-unsplash

Registration is now open for WBEF Summit Shanghai 2020

Find out more

Construction work
With ConTech, there might be oportunities to further innovate in construction sites

I know you may be thinking, we have the tech to automate most industries, so surely Con Tech, through artificial intelligence and robotics, could easily dominate the construction sector – especially if construction moves towards digital prefabricated modular design.

ICON construction has Vulcan the robot, capable of 3D printing a property in 72-hours. Then there is SAM 100, the American Semi-Automated Mason, a bricklaying robot able to lay brick more than six times faster than a human: it does not rest, and it does not become injured. Or Hadrian X, the Australian robot with an inbuilt CAD system used for project management and construction, aided by dynamic stabilisation, which is undergoing final trials.

Maybe we are close to a technological watershed, an end to the thousands of accidents and fatalities in the construction sector worldwide, and a more planned and less wasteful industry.

Maybe we are close to a technological watershed, an end to the thousands of accidents and fatalities in the construction sector worldwide, and a more planned and less wasteful industry.

Well yes, perhaps, but the example of the aerospace industry is useful; when I was a boy we landed on the moon, but the tech and resources were a massive dollar cost. So, 40-years later, spaceflight is not the norm, though mass production of small satellites may be on the up (and of course Elon Musk the space aviator is on a mission – though he has deep pockets).

Lack of investment is a primary factor holding back the introduction of a seamless automated, efficient and much needed disruptor to the industry. So too, people. And, as I saw recently in a successful award winning proptech pitch given by Nucon to HB Reavis, continued use of paper is an equally major stumbling block.

Let’s talk money: construction is a multi-billion-dollar game world-wide, next year it will generate US$ 24,334bn (in America alone it will generate US$ 1,293bn revenue). If you do the maths, you will see that there are some strong vested interests to keep the humans in construction, and some pretty big drivers to get Con Tech involved with all processes.

Lack of investment is a primary factor holding back the introduction of a seamless automated, efficient and much needed disruptor to the industry. So too, people. But continued use of paper is an equally major stumbling block.

Let’s talk people: the big sticking point, putting aside unions, financial interests, etc is us humans. In America there are 7.2 million humans in construction; in China over 56 million are involved in building properties. Economically what are these people going to be doing if they leave the sector?

Finally, let’s talk paper: Malaysian based Nucon expounded a solution to the 20% cost of waste caused by defective processes in the built construction sector; at the heart of the company’s solution was the hidden fact that most of the construction industry is run on paper – not just in the planning phase, but at every painful point of the supply chain. Then, when defects occur, that is all written down as well.

This needs to be remedied and standardised globally, creating significant savings, efficiencies and transparency. This will allow for a ‘new way’ of constructing buildings. It will not be an overnight process.

Intriguingly, ConTech is the solution to the pivotal paradox that construction has: a massive and unending skills shortage, dating back three decades. This is why we should embrace the relentlessly efficient and never-sleeping machines that will, in time, plan, execute and build our shimmering utopian cities.