When most people hear artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning, the last thing they think of is technology with a human touch. More so, apprehensions can arise because it feels like these concepts are void of humanity entirely.
Many people also believe that AI may have harmful effects on workplaces. A 2023 survey by Pew Research found that 32% of U.S. workers think AI will hurt the workforce more than help, while just 13% believe the reverse.
There are clearly a lot of valid concerns regarding AI, and given the rise of tools like ChatGPT, we’ll certainly see more conversations happening around the topic. That said, it’s worth noting that AI can have a tremendous and positive impact, particularly in the construction industry.
When implemented properly, AI and machine learning can improve the daily lives of humans on the jobsite.
And while it may seem like a highly technical non-human approach, artificial intelligence can make things more human. Instead of taking humans out of the equation, AI and machine learning lets people do their real jobs more effectively.
In recent years, technology and digital collaboration have accelerated in construction. Yet, it’s difficult to find the resources to implement new technologies while staying on track with your projects.
Enter AI and machine learning.
These technologies will propel the industry forward, improving outcomes for workers, contracting companies, and end clients.
If you’re willing to get on board, the use of AI in construction could help improve safety, productivity, quality, and other vital measures. AI can take over monotonous duties and help with design and planning, allowing the humans on the team to spend their time honing their expertise and creativity.
Beyond that, AI and machine learning can help teams and companies make informed predictions, streamlining workflows.
Below, we’ll provide an inside look into the rise of AI in construction, and how it can potentially shift the industry in favor of its human counterparts.
Before we get too far into the subject, let’s make sure we cover the fundamentals, especially if you’re not familiar with the concepts of AI, machine learning, and deep learning already. These terms are often thrown around together, but they do have some key distinctions.
Let’s start with artificial intelligence. AI is a broad field in computer science that deals with creating smart machines that can perform tasks that otherwise typically require human intelligence. These tasks include learning from experience, recognizing patterns, and understanding natural language.
Machine learning is a subset of AI. In the most basic sense, it is defined by the book “Machine Learning: An Artificial Intelligence Approach,” as “the ability to learn is one of the most fundamental attributes of intelligent behavior.’
Basically, machines can learn and predict outcomes on their own. Rather than a person programming them, they use software with algorithms that allow them to create predictions based on their analysis of data. For example, a machine can tell you that it needs preventative servicing.
Deep learning is a subset of machine learning, wherein the machine is taught to learn and make decisions based on artificial neural networks—specifically, deep neural networks (DNN). Deep learning is primarily used for handling large amounts of complex data.
Now, let’s get into what these technologies could do for construction projects and workers.
AI, or more specifically, machine learning, can improve designs overall to make spaces better for the human end users.
For example, WeWork wanted its meeting rooms to match the ways people would be using the spaces. The workspace startup used machine learning to help understand and predict the frequency of use for these meeting rooms, and the company was able to design the space to best fit the needs of the people before starting construction on it.
Autodesk's collaboration with Daisy AI Inc is another great example of using AI in construction design.
Daisy developed an AI-powered construction design system that automates timber floor layout optimization. In line with this, Autodesk Research built a prototype called Kratos, which optimizes conceptual design of mass timber buildings.
Together, the solutions created an end-to-end generative design workflow for timber structures. Ultimately, these solutions can help architects and engineers deliver more sustainable timber-based construction in the future.
The benefits of AI in design don’t end there. Machine learning can also help workers figure out mistakes and omissions that might be present in the design before going forward with building.
Instead of spending hours trying to identify errors, you can leave that to machine learning which ultimately saves time and frees up resources for more productive tasks. With the right AI technology, you can even test various environmental conditions and situations in the model. The technology can help determine if a particular element of the design is optimal or predict if it could create an issue down the road.
Increased safety is a priority for construction sites; AI provides a high-tech way to achieve this goal.
AI-powered computer vision can be used to analyze trip and fall incidents on the jobsite, helping leaders come up with better safety measures for workers. This same technology can also analyze video footage to flag safety hazards and non-compliance.
For instance, if team members aren’t wearing their protective gear properly, AI can spot this and prompt managers to conduct safety training.
Another use case? Streamline incident reporting with AI. Sensors, cameras, and IoT devices installed on-site can monitor and gather data in real time and log any incidents that arise.
AI can also assist workers in detecting and reporting incidents. Thanks to natural language processing (NLP), AI-powered systems can analyze reports, identify patterns, and suggest the right course of action.
One of the truly amazing capabilities of AI in construction is it can identify risks before they happen. This helps humans increase awareness of potential pitfalls and figure out how to prevent problems from arising. AI and machine learning can anticipate problems, measure their impact, and use predictive analytics to help you reduce risks.
Let’s take a look at another amazing example of machine learning in construction in action. Tools like Construction IQ look at the challenges of leaders in the construction field to understand how AI could help. It found that the AI algorithms were able to prioritize problems and understand risk, such as potential consequences if a concern was not handled.
The AutoSpecs functionality in Autodesk Construction Cloud leverages AI to surface missing submittal items before construction begins. The feature, which uses Construction IQ, analyzes project specifications and compares them with historical data to recommend potentially missing submittals. This, in turn, allows teams to be more proactive with managing costs and schedule risks.
All of these things have the potential to help construction managers streamline their workflows and prevent problems.
Pat Keaney, Director of Product Management, Intelligence at Autodesk Construction R&D, points out that AI helps construction pros unlock “superpowers” so they can do their jobs better.
“We’re also leveraging AI to automatically identify root causes of RFIs and to continuously identify high risk issues by tracking progress, predicting safety incidents, etc. This stuff is happening literally every single day in construction.”
“Over the next five to 10 years, AI and construction is going to be all about augmenting people, making people more efficient, making them smarter, and making their lives better.”
- Pat Keaney, Director of Product Management, Intelligence at Autodesk Construction R&D
Learn more by listening to this episode of the Digital Builder podcast, which covers key facts, use cases, and tips on AI and machine learning in construction.
Beyond design and construction, AI can even be instrumental in facility management to extend the total lifespan of an asset. There are often gaps in important information in facility management. As a result, it’s difficult to manage repairs and renovations efficiently and cost-effectively on site.
AI and machine learning help streamline the process by augmenting the collection and utilization of data. It does this by classifying documents and data like work orders and assessing pertinent conditions in real time, with surprising accuracy. This takes away these tedious and time-consuming administrative duties from people and allows them to focus on the real problem at hand.
Furthermore, if machine learning is integrated into a BIM model in operations and maintenance, it can determine the best way to carry out maintenance and repairs by visualizing when and where problems will occur. For instance, AI was leveraged in BIM models of the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco to improve facility management. With that data, facility teams can better optimize space and monitor critical metrics like energy usage and upcoming maintenance needs.
Simple AI capabilities have already transformed your day-to-day life outside of work without you probably realizing it. Think Gmail, or another email service you use. Advanced filtering gets rid of spam and highlights the most important emails you need to read first. On a more fun note, media platforms such as Netflix surface customized content recommendations for you based on advanced algorithms ensuring you never have to spend countless hours on your coach figuring out what to watch.
In construction, AI is empowering “behind-the-scenes" automations that are making jobs easier and automating repetitive tasks. For example, tools like Autodesk Build can autodetect title blocks, sheet names, numbers, etc. This seemingly small but powerful capability helps reduce the wasted effort that VDC folks usually need to spend on categorizing their drawings.
Ready to use artificial intelligence in construction as soon as possible? To be effective and accurate, AI needs large subsets of data.
As Jim Lynch, Senior Vice President & General Manager of Autodesk Construction Solutions points out in a recent episode of the Digital Builder podcast, “There is so much data and so much to learn from, and that is what artificial intelligence feeds off of. That’s how it delivers value.”
Jim continues, “10 years from now—maybe less—will we still need design teams to draw doors, walls, and windows? Or do we apply artificial intelligence to capture the requirements? That way, the design and construction teams are integrated further along, so they’re tweaking and quickly generating those construction drawings. There’s so much out there for us to apply artificial intelligence to.”
Of course, data alone isn’t enough. For teams (and AI solutions) to effectively uncover insights, construction data must be organized and integrated.
Unfortunately, many technology platforms out there are not well or integrated, leaving data disconnected. Addressing this issue lies in selecting a connected construction platform that keeps all your data in one place.
Doing so will enable you to organize your data, which then paves the way for more effective analysis and insights.
Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals of AI in construction and the value it brings to the industry, let’s look at some of the top AI tools and solutions in the market. Depending on your objectives, you may want to consider the following.
Construction IQ uses machine learning and AI to help project leaders manage and reduce risks in four key areas: cost, schedule, quality, and safety. The solution is available for Autodesk Build and Autodesk BIM Collaborate.
Whether you're working on design concerns, looking into RFIs, or striving to improve safety, Construction IQ can help you identify and prioritize issues, ensuring you're tackling the right tasks at the right time.
EarthCam is a leading provider of live camera technology, content, and services. Construction teams use EarthCam to monitor and document their projects. From webcam content and live streaming video to epic construction time-lapse, EarthCam provides comprehensive ecosystem of visual data solutions to enhance project management and promote transparency.
EarthCam also uses state-of-the-art, server-side AI and Edge Computer Vision, which surpasses the ability of human observers. The company uses AI Object Detection to automate alerts, tags, and visualizations. This means teams can spend less time manually observing projects, and more energy taking action.
viAct, a company dedicated to providing comprehensive monitoring of construction projects, leverages advanced AIoT (Artificial Intelligence of Things) to automate the tracking of safety, productivity, and maintenance. viAct does this by powering existing job-site cameras with scenario-based AI technology.
The technology powers any on-site camera with scenario-based AI, making it easy to capture safety or productivity issues. ViAct then showcases data in a user-friendly dashboard that teams can quickly identify—and act on—any issues around safety or non-compliance.
Constru uses advanced computer vision and AI to streamline and improve construction project management. Geared towards superintendents and project managers, the solution helps users identify differences between construction plans and actual builds by automatically comparing BIM to 360° images of the jobsite. This makes it easy to identify discrepancies and reduce rework.
Constru also gives you the option to integrate system-detected discrepancies into Autodesk Construction Cloud as Issues. That way, you can manage the solution's automated discrepancy detection alongside manually detected issues, all within familiar workflows.
Easily capture progress on the jobsite with StructionSite. The solutions’ Site Documentation feature allows you to capture standard pictures, 360 photos, and videos that are mapped to your floor plan.
Once the files are captured, StructionSite makes it easy to find photos easily with AI-powered capabilities—essentially enabling you to create a virtual jobsite that teams can access from anywhere.
We hope you can see what we see: that machine learning and AI in construction has some exciting possibilities within our industry for the future, beginning now. But while AI is likely to influence the future of construction, this certainly doesn’t mean devices and technology will replace us.
Construction is a human business, and it will stay that way. We need the skills, expertise, and innovation of our workers to win the future. We can use machine learning as just another tool that will let our industry’s talents and progress shine. If we use it wisely, it can help us make the most of our creativity and ingenuity. You never know how far it could take our own human abilities.