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SPECS Exclusive: Construction goes high tech


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

“We are at the intersection of technology and buildings,” said James M. Benham, CEO of construction technology firm JBKnowledge, during a session at Chain Store Age’s SPECS 2016 conference at Hilton Anatole in Dallas, March 13-15. The session, “Future Forecast: Drones, Sensors, Integrated Apps,” examined how leading-edge technology is changing the construction industry.

“Technology, construction and buildings are converging into a new product we haven’t defined yet,” said Benham. This is despite the fact that on average construction firms spend 1.5% of annual revenue on IT, compared to the 3.5% of annual revenue other industries combined spend on IT.

One key area that is being affected is worker safety.

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

Behnam also said 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.

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,” said Benham.

Following are highlights of some of the leading-edge construction solutions Benham discussed.

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,” said Benham. “Everything is electronically connected in real time. 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,” explained Benham. “Virtual reality is virtual immersion where you forget the real world. 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 3D scanners, drones can perform 3D 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 3D printing, which he said will alter how buildings are constructed.

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

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