The COVID-19 pandemic brought a number of challenges to the construction sector, and it’s responding with investments in smart technology, according to commercial real estate services company JLL.
The construction industry’s heavy investment in artificial intelligence (AI) startups and cloud-based technologies is expected to reach $8 billion by 2031, according to a recent Research Dive report. Additionally, JLL’s Artificial Intelligence: Real Estate Revolution or Evolution? revealed that about $4 billion was invested in AI-powered property technology (proptech) tools in 2022, which drove real estate application development using AI.
AI has become more attractive to the construction sector as it’s shown to solve many problems the industry faces. The variety of technologies available has helped make companies’ operations more efficient, lower costs and reduce workers’ physical stress.
“AI technology has the potential to shift how we work in construction dramatically,” said Andrew Volz, JLL Project and Development Services Americas research lead. “These tools heighten accuracy and give time back by changing the need for project managers, specialists and inspectors to be frequently on site.”
UK-based Pure Gym wanted to expand into U.S. markets, but international travel was impossible due restrictions during the pandemic. However, OpenSpace, an AI-driven photo documentation tool, allowed the Pure Gym team to view its targeted sites virtually. The solution saved time and money while also letting the company focus on the gym’s major design features and simulate how gym members would move throughout the area to determine the layout and what amenities to include.
“OpenSpace is a game changer,” said Todd Burns, president, Project and Development Services, JLL. “We are excited to offer this premium tool for our clients, differentiating us from our competitors, and solidifying JLL’s position as providing the most innovative, digital-first solutions to its clients.”
Meanwhile, Volz said he expects this type of technological advancement to continue, as it can be used during the pre-and-post construction compliance monitoring phases. Putting the technology to work could help deal with any pandemic-related delays and cost pressures. Additionally, natural and large language processing tech can expedite tasks that involve contracts and permits, according to Volz.
“You don’t need dedicated people on-site to do monitoring anymore. This technology allows us to plan better, monitor, and deploy labor,” he said. “You simply can have your apprentices walk the site with a 365-degree camera on their hard hat and get vital information to create an augmented reality model showing progress.”
Tech has also improved the pre-construction phase in architecture and engineering, according to JLL. Computers are helping build out new architecture styles with parametric designs. The computers can also stress test small engineering parts for the connectors between buildings to see how much material can be shaved off without sacrificing performance.
“These technologies will play a critical role in alleviating time and cost pressures,” Volz said. “Where we need to see more attention is the actual bricks and sticks of construction.”
Addressing the construction labor shortage
AI technology has become more critical to the construction industry as more people exit the sector because of early retirement, according to JLL. Assistive technology such as Construction Robotics’ material lift enhancer or semi-autonomous mason unit have been helpful, but it will be a while before full-scale replacement equipment is available and cost-effective.
“The direction we are heading is cool because it is not a replacement for skilled workers, but more so a supplement,” Volz said. “These tools lower the physical stressors on the workforce, which is incredibly important for a field where performance falls rapidly after the age of 55. Anything that can reduce those strains and stressors will be vital. A safer, more efficient workforce with greater working life expectancy will go a long way in addressing structural issues of the nation’s construction labor pool.”
Volz said he expects plenty of investment money to be put into construction to help address the industry’s issues, but those funds won’t solve every problem. Widespread adoption, standardization, and upfront capital expenses are some of the key sticking points facing the industry.
“All those things are major issues that will appear no matter what,” Volz said. “However, as the cost of materials and labor continue to rise, there will be enough pressure to explore these tech-driven alternatives. It is kind of the perfect storm of different things that are pushing for adoption now.”