by Bridget Hamilton
Our Future Buildings exhibition at the Old Post Office opened earlier this month, exploring what our homes, offices and schools may look like in the future and the technology empowering the construction industry’s most successful creations. With that in mind, we take a look at the ten concepts most likely to change the landscape of construction in the coming years.
Arguably one of the most impressive technological innovations over the past few years, Augmented Reality (AR) is the process of overlaying digital information over a user’s real view - often through the use of an iPad, smartphone or headset. We use it in our Future Buildings exhibition to add extra detail to the map on our North East Showcase wall - visitors can scan any of the eleven building markers and explore a corresponding 360 degree model on the screen in front of them.
While AR has been used very effectively in industries like gaming for years, its applications in construction are also very exciting: firms can show clients what their proposed designs may look like in an existing environment. Imagine holding up your smartphone and seeing your new school auditorium superimposed onto the construction site in front of you!
Unlike Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality (VR) is entirely computer generated - although users will often navigate it in the same way (through an iPad, smartphone or headset). You could also use a computer keyboard or mouse.
For the construction industry, VR can allow realistic explorations of buildings that haven’t even been created yet, meaning potential issues can be highlighted (by either client or contractor) before a single brick has been laid.
Smartphones and Apps
With all of the new technology we learn about it’s easy to forget that most of us have an extremely powerful machine in our pockets. Through lots of free and premium apps, smartphones can measure distance, temperature and air quality as well as take high-definition video and photographs.
For the construction industry, empowering construction managers to carry these key tools with them at all times can save time and prove extremely cost effective.
Put simply, 3D printing is the process of creating a physical object from a digital design. Although you typically see footage of 3D printers making small models out of thin layers of plastic, the number of materials available (and the types of printers) is increasing all the time. This means that 3D printers no longer simply make small models to show clients but can also fabricate the actual buildings themselves out of sandstone, metal or other alloys.
When it comes to wearable technology, we’re talking much more than Fitbits and Apple watches. In the construction industry, wearable technology can not only enhance your performance but also save your life.
The most exciting wearable innovations for our sector range from smart helmets - which not only incorporate AR software into the visor, but also notify other helmet wearers if any impact from a fall has been detected - all the way to fully bionic suits, increasing the amount of weight a construction worker can carry whilst also protecting them from common back injuries.
Robots have long since been a Hollywood director’s dream - they are a reality for the construction and manufacturing industries, and their presence on a construction site is becoming more and more common.
There isn’t simply one type of robot, either - firms across the globe are working on machines that automate many of the jobs on a construction site, from bricklaying to demolition to accurate monitoring of the site progress day by day. Of course, automation brings its worries as well as its benefits.
Earlier in the year McKinsey described Artificial Intelligence (AI) as ‘Construction Technology’s Final Frontier’. While most robots are programmed to run a series of defined tasks repetitively, AI algorithms are designed to ‘think’; they problem-solve, learn, adapt and use reasoning.
For construction, AI can compare millions of potential options within a project - something that would take humans years - monitor video footage or photographs and learn to recognise risks within both data and real-life situations. Imagine having programme looking out for signs of fatigue in construction site workers.
Living walls / installations
More than ever, firms and local authorities are doing the most they can do offset the pollution or waste produced from the building and maintenance of their buildings. One way that this has been achieved is through living or ‘green’ walls, either standalone structures (such as this one) or flora and fauna that literally and deliberately scale the side of a building.
Sanwal Muneer, a young entrepreneur from Pakistan, has also pioneered a roadside wind turbine that generates renewable energy from the wind made by passing traffic. We are sure (and very happy) that more initiatives like this will be visible in our cities in the future.
Internet of Things
Last but definitely not least, the Internet of Things is a total game changer for the construction industry. The ability for us to be able to control our thermostats, lights and locks via the cloud enables architects and designers to think creatively about the makeup of our homes and workplaces and, importantly, how differently we might use them in the future.
Interested in how technology is changing the construction industry landscape? Visit our Future Buildings exhibition, 22nd June - 9th September at The Old Post Office, Newcastle upon Tyne.
Find out more here