by Richard McPartland
The din at the local park seems to have transferred from the model boating lake to the skies as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or 'drones' increasingly find favour with hobbyists.
In war zones drones offer a bird's eye view of the battlefield, as fictionalised in Eye In the Sky, while Amazon's plans, via Prime Air, to drop our internet-ordered consumer goods in the middle of a nearby field tout suite hint at more practical applications for the technology.
Construction, in particular, has much to gain from an aerial vantage point. The ability to capture data from on high over large, often hard to access areas, within minimum risk is a compelling proposition. With the help of drones, regular surveys during construction, operation and maintenance can help monitor conditions and developments on site, even in restricted or hazardous conditions.
3D printed components and structures
Using 3D 'printing' to create construction components or even entire buildings is no longer the preserve of science fiction and an increasingly digital design process is likely to spur adoption still further.
The applications? Many and varied - from quick prototypes and models. The benefits? Faster, accurate construction of complex and bespoke items. Cutting down on the time and money needed to transport components to and from site could also make a real difference to the construction industry of the future.
Need proof? Consider the students creating structural elements via 3D printed concrete at the Bartlett School of Architecture or the apartments 3D printed on site in Russia by Apis Cotr.
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the (not all that) catchy moniker attached to a whole world of connected gadgets and gizmos that interact with each other to monitor, report and switch things on and off with varying degrees of intelligence.
Such is the importance of the Internet of Things it's right at the heart of the Digital Built Britain agenda and the journey towards Level 3 BIM.
At a domestic level our smart houses allow us to (remotely) control heating and (with some intelligence) optimise energy performance. On a larger scale expect the IoT to power smart buildings in smart cities - a world of buildings that order their own replacement parts when existing ones fail and traffic lights that collate data and adjust traffic flows intelligently.
It's the data that's key to changing the way we work, rest and play - honing our environment in response to real-world performance metrics gathered from building management systems and a network of sensors.
It's the data that's key to changing the way we work, rest and play - honing our environment in response to real-world performance metrics
For consumers smart watches and fitness devices are no longer the preserve of the early adopter.
In construction too personal tracking and monitoring is becoming more common - whether helping to keep track of personnel on the construction site or checking the vitals of those operating the heavy plant and machinery.
There's no more iconic vision of the future than the robot. When you hear the word you immediately conjure up images of robot housekeepers courtesy of The Jetsons, souless mechanoids via Fritz Lang's Metropolis or memories of a misspent youth courtesy of Metal Mickey. Robots have long been viewed with equal amounts scepticism and intrigue but as science fiction increasingly becomes science fact should we be worried or excited?
When it comes to construction sector, robots have the ability to safely and effectively carry out repetitive tasks. Product manufacture is already reliant on mechanical labour and robots are increasingly moving on-site to give bricklaying and tracklaying a go. Where precision and continuity are key robots also have much to offer - take the ceiling drilling robot from nLink, by way of example, that carefully goes about its business according to BIM instructions.
Speaking at the Autodesk University event in Las Vegas last November the company's chief technology officer Jeff Kowalski argued that the robots are coming FOR us - to serve, to help, to respond to those who rise to the challenge of making the most of what they can offer. That said, the potential of our robotic 'pals' to do us out of a job and to work more efficiently and produce better results, may prove the worriers have just cause. For now the high costs remain prohibitive in many potential applications.
Virtual and augmented realities
Virtual Reality (VR) is fast becoming an essential tool for project teams looking to collaborate in virtual spaces or explore structures not yet built. By creating an immersive world via a headset (not all that dissimilar to the clunky devices that emerged in the early 1990s) or a cardboard viewer and smartphone, participants can network, train and otherwise collaborate in virtual environs.
Image being able to view performance information overlaid onto your field of vision as you walk through a building. Augmented Reality (AR) can do exactly that as it applies graphical overlays to a real-world view. Technologies like Microsoft's HoloLens and DAQRI’s Smart Helmet hint at a Minority Report-style future where data is freed from paper and computer screens and presented in-situ.
As with any process of change - it's driven by people and process and not just the technology. The term 'digital native' has likely outlived its usefulness (you don't have to have grown up with a technology to learn and understand it) but still serves as a reminder that techologies, over time, converge and become business as usual or die out entirely. People on the other hand can choose to embrace the new opportunities that digital construction can offer and adapt to survive. Ten years ago we'd wager that few people cited their occupation as a BIM Manager, today it's a safer bet. 20 years from now? Arguably obsolete. The pace of change has never been so fast.