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Session Spotlight: Construction Goes High Tech


Although the construction industry lags other major verticals in IT spending, technology is still having a dramatic impact on the practice.

“We are at the intersection of technology and buildings,” said James M. Benham, CEO of construction technology firm JBKnowledge.

Benham was a featured speaker at the SPECS session, “Future Forecast: Drones, Sensors, Integrated Apps,” which examined how leading-edge technology is changing the construction industry. He noted that, on average, construction firms spend 1.5% of annual revenue on IT, compared with the 3.5% of annual revenue other industries combined spend on IT.

WORKER SAFETY: One key area that is being affected is worker safety.

“Death is no longer acceptable or financially feasible in construction,” said Benham. “We optimize sites and reduce worker movement, saving $400,000 to $600,000 per store project and increasing safety.”

In the future, worker safety will be improved through the use of cutting-edge technologies, such as sensor-equipped safety vests that vibrate if a worker gets too close to dangerous equipment, according to Benham.

Much of Benham’s presentation focused on emerging technologies that will significantly change how construction projects are run and insured in the next few years.

“More complex retail strategies are resulting in more complex retail construction projects that are impossible without technology,” he said.

Following are highlights of some of the leading-edge construction solutions outlined by Benham:

• Cloud: “Cloud technology is computing resources that are available anywhere, anytime, on any device, and you can have as much as you want,” said Benham. “If you have hundreds of sites, you can know about a safety incident anywhere immediately.”

• Big data: “Big data is data at big volume, big velocity and big variety,” Benham said. “It’s like Niagara Falls, but you can tell where the water is coming from, where it’s going to and what it all means. You could analyze workers’ compensation insurance claims to learn what drives catastrophic claims.”

• Machine learning: “Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence that provides computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed,” said Benham.

• Internet of Things: The Internet of Things will impact how and what we build, according to Benham.

“Everything is electronically connected in real time,” he explained. “So you could monitor the performance of your truck drivers or check on truck fuel levels and tire pressure. In 10 years, you won’t be able to insure your vehicles without Internet of Things tracking. There will also be an Internet of Buildings. The frame of a building will be a giant server array.”

• Wearables: “To qualify as a wearable, a device has to biologically interact with you,” Benham stated. “For example, a smartwatch that monitors your heart rate. It will be required for health insurance of your workers in 10 years.”

• Augmented and virtual reality: Augmented reality augments your world and vision.

“Virtual reality is virtual immersion where you forget the real world, Benham said. “You can augment vision to overlay arrows and highlight what needs to be done on a site. Virtual reality can deliver the feeling of walking into a space and then touching a wall to get an ‘as built’ estimate. All these tools will end the need for a computer monitor or display. The whole world will be your monitor.”

• Drones: “Drones are the culmination of all the technologies I discussed,” said Benham. “Using object recognition, you could have a drone follow a troublesome employee. Using 3-D scanners, drones can perform 3-D data capture. You can deploy autonomous drones to inspect things that are high up or fix things when they break.”

Benham also briefly touched on 3-D printing, which he said will alter how buildings are constructed.

“In China, they are currently using 3-D printers to print buildings,” said Benham. “It’s really happening. But I don’t talk about it too much because it freaks people out.”

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