Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Monday, September 27, 2021

AI, Drones, 360-Degree Cameras Providing New Building Tools for the Construction Industry 

Using drones, aerial images from airplanes and 360-degree cameras mounted on construction site hard hats worn by workers, AI is being integrated in an ever-widening range of roles in the construction industry, from apartment building projects to road building and more.

It is all part of the constantly evolving expansion of AI use cases in industry as the technology continues to find new areas where it can be used to solve business problems for enterprises.

A sampling of vendors in the emerging space includes Buildots, which uses off-the-shelf cameras mounted on construction helmets to collect worksite information inside apartment buildings as work progresses; AI Clearing, which uses AI to perform construction project progress monitoring using drones and aerial images; and Alice Technologies, which uses AI to plan, simulate and optimize construction schedules to keep projects moving forward more efficiently.

For construction companies, the benefits can be huge. Using AI, construction companies can accurately track and monitor the work being done on their projects in real-time, which is critical in an industry where mistakes and delays can easily push projects into the red or cause long and costly delays.

Buildots Real-Time Construction Project Reporting

At Buildots, the hardhat-mounted cameras used as part of its product allow workers to collect work site data automatically as they walk through buildings as they are being built using 3D modeling. The images capture every aspect of the site, from the progress of wiring to walls to plumbing and more. Then the footage is analyzed using AI algorithms and compared to the original project building plans and schedules.

The Buildots system uses a 360-degree GoPro camera mounted atop a hard hat and the company’s Buildocs proprietary docking station. The system captures every detail of the worksite as the employees walk the site, then the GoPro camera can be placed into the docking station so its collected information can be downloaded to the Buildots servers for analysis and reporting to the customer.

The Buildots system creates what the company calls seamless construction process visibility, along with fully-digitized construction workflows that aim to optimize processes, minimize delays and eliminate or reduce budget overruns.

The collected data is then processed using AI and computer vision to create a digital twin of the job site, which provides construction managers and crews the details for what is missing, what is still in the works and what has been completed. It can uncover minute details, from a missing electrical socket, an incorrect window installation, an error in duct work or any other element on the site, according to the company.

So far, Buildots, headquartered in Tel Aviv and London, is available for internal residential and commercial construction projects, and it is being used by more than twenty customers and in twelve countries. In August, the company announced the receipt of a $30 million Round B investment, led by Lightspeed Ventures with the participation of Buildots’ previous investors, including TLV Partners, Future Energy Ventures, and Tidhar Construction Group. Buildots is using the funds to double the size of its global sales and R&D teams.

In July, Los Angeles-based commercial general contractor, Build Group, announced that it chose Buildots to track three of its construction projects in the U.S., including the M2 tower 19-story residential project in San Francisco.

Glen Roberts of Wates Construction

Glen Roberts, the operations director for U.K.-based Wates Construction, told EnterpriseAI that his company is using Buildots on several residential projects, including at its Park East residential project that totals some 258,300 square feet.

“I've got a current [project] I'm using it on with 320 apartments,” said Roberts. “It has about 10 separate project managers. If every one of those managers must go into their units to inspect the work that is completed each week by the subcontractors, it would take a lot of time. With the AI technology from the Buildots platform, I can send one person with the camera in to go over every unit.  The camera will pick up all of the information and update the necessary dashboards and programs to show us a 100 percent accurate picture of the work.”

In the past, that work would have been done by managers using visual inspections, recording notes and details in Excel spreadsheets and in paper notebooks, said Roberts. Then those notes had to be manually placed into additional programs and notes before being reported to him by those managers.

“It was very time consuming,” he said. “With Buildots, if I want a report for Tuesday, they go out and do the data capture on a Friday and then on Monday morning, the data is there, we download it, and we know exactly where we are.”

Presently, there is a 36-hour delay from data capture until the information is available to the users, according to Roberts, though he said he has heard the company is looking to reduce that delay to 12 hours in the future.

Roberts said his construction teams are using Buildots on five work sites.

“The project teams are embracing it because it does save them time,” while also giving them accurate reporting, he said.

It also provides incontrovertible evidence when having discussions and disputes with vociferous subcontractors who insist that parts of a job are completed even when they are not done, he said.

“When I flash a dashboard up… I can flash up something that's actually been captured by a camera,” said Roberts. “Nobody can deny the facts that are on the screen.”

Wates Construction has been using Buildots for about three years and was one of its earliest customers, he said. “We piloted it on to two smaller projects,” then provided feedback and critiques to make it better, he said. “This is why it is so great to be working with them because they will take on board any of our concerns or any of our aspirational desires and make the system better.”

AI Clearing Construction Progress Monitoring

Beyond the actual construction-tracking that it being done for building contractors, there is also a need for super-detailed tracking of the progress of building projects, from massive highway projects to solar farms and more.

That is where AI Clearing comes in with its cloud-based, AI-powered construction progress monitoring services, which also incorporate GIS analytics to automate infrastructure and energy construction progress reporting and provide broad insights to users. The AI Clearing platform analyzes aerial images, geospatial data and CAD/BIM (Building Information Modeling) designs to monitor the progress of infrastructure projects so clients can keep projects on track, on time and in line with project plans.

AI Clearing uses drone-based data collection covering 100 percent of the construction site and enables contractors and investors to track the progress of infrastructure projects up to 144 times faster than typical human-powered processes, according to the company. It can be used for highways, factories, solar farms, community infrastructure projects and a wide range of other commercial structures and requirements.

Michael Mazur of AI Clearing

“It is AI that is designed to understand what is going on in a construction site and provide you with the progress information,” Michael Mazur, the CEO of AI Clearing, told EnterpriseAI. “It is a system which takes your construction component project manager updates … and designs, drawings, the schedule – when each part and section of the construction should be delivered – and it takes pictures from the drone. It looks at it all completely autonomously without any intervention. And it tells you whether you are on track and what is wrong and what is right.”

The data from the drones or aerial imagery from airplanes is then brought together with the AI Clearing platform for analysis and reporting on the status of a construction project, said Mazur. “You just upload the data, and within minutes or a couple of hours you have entire construction sites analyzed,” he said.

This technology will be even more useful today due to the recently approved federal infrastructure bills which will bring about new needed infrastructure projects across the nation, he added.

“There will be much more of these large projects” due to the new spending bill, said Mazur. “The issue or the problems we all have – from governments to contractors and to users of the infrastructure – is that … these projects, from highways to high-speed rail or whatever – they are always delayed and always over budget. And the key reason is that if you are building 100 miles of highway, or a huge solar farm or whatever, you cannot count or control it [accurately] with humans.” force.

When it comes to large construction projects today, typical tracking of the work is done by sampling, where a surveyor will say that this 10 percent of the work was done well, so let us assume the other 90 percent was done just as well, said Mazur.

“What AI brought is that now we can fly a drone or fly a plane over this stretch of 100 miles of construction,” he said. “And you take those pictures, you give them to our AI Clearing system, and in a couple of hours you have very precise reports, for every 100 yards after every 100 yards.”

Aerial site image from AI Clearing

The reports describe what is supposed to be there, what is there and what is still needed, he said.

This is also important nowadays because there are shortages of construction workers, including surveyors, who typically perform such inspections, he added.

Alice Technologies Construction Schedule Optimization

While AI Clearing monitors construction project progress, another company, Alice Technologies, uses AI to plan, simulate and optimize construction schedules to keep projects moving forward more efficiently, said Mazur. The work of this San Francisco-based company can be used along with the services from AI Clearing and other related vendors, he said.

“Alice Technologies has AI-optimized scheduling, so you have a huge schedule to plan for how to execute a construction project,” said Mazur. “They apply their AI to simplify it, to put the tasks in different orders to deliver the project.”

These kinds of scheduling and optimization tasks are not part of AI Clearing’s services, he added. “We are for just monitoring the scheduled date, for example, that things are prepared and being executed according to the plan.”

AI Use in Construction: Analysts Weigh In

Karl Freund, analyst

Integrating AI into industries such as construction makes a lot of sense, said Karl Freund, the founder and principal analyst of Cambrian AI Research.

“The use of AI in construction is a natural fit; analyzing imagery of construction sites can yield insights into quality, schedule, and productivity, just to name a few obvious benefits,” he told EnterpriseAI. “Moreover, I believe that there will be very few application areas that do not include AI, and soon. The benefits are compelling.”

James Kobielus, senior research director for data communications and management, at TDWI, a data analytics consultancy, agreed.

James Kobielus, analyst

“It does not surprise me that AI is being used in construction, or in any industry anymore,” said Kobielus. “In construction, it is reassuring to know that the industry is using every AI-powered smart sensor—especially smart cameras mounted on drones—to assess, plan, map, measure, and monitor their projects in three dimensions and real-time. This is high-stakes, high-cost precision engineering, and I would be shocked if construction crews do not use the full range of AI-powered interactive simulation, predictive modeling, geospatial analytics, remote sensing, robotics, and environmental monitoring to do the jobs well, efficiently and without wasting efforts or risking lives.”

Kobielus said he also can see construction companies using AI-powered mixed-reality, robots and remote collaboration tools in the future.

“[They would] help distributed crews work together more effectively on projects, from building bridges to skyscrapers to tunnels, etc., where efforts must be coordinated in real-time among parties are unable to see and hear each other close-up,” he said.

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