Some things will never replace the hammer and nail, but construction technology continues to evolve. Yesterday’s science fiction– including robots, virtual reality, and “smart” technology– has gone mainstream as engineers address today’s challenges.
Redshift by AutoDesk recently published a list of cutting-edge technology trends that shaped 2017, and will continue to be influential in 2018.
Photo by Built Robotics.
The construction industry is no stranger to using recycled products to improve the sustainability of our roadways. It began with rubber. Today builders use recycled bottles.
Two high-profile bridges added visibility to the power of concrete printers in 2017. Both a Madrid Gaudi-inspired pedestrian bridge and a cyclist bridge in the Netherlands were constructed on-site.
3D-printed concrete is not just a fun sci-fi material. It lowers the amount of cement required, eliminates the need for formwork, and extends design possibilities.
Robots on the Jobsite
Robotics has been quietly transforming the jobsite for years. Trucks and especially dump trucks are often automated.
You may be familiar with the SAM, or Semi-Automated Mason, a robotic bricklayer that can work alongside its human counterparts. Another recent innovation is the autonomous track loader, which cuts and files while using a combination of GPS, LIDAR, and other digital resources to guide itself around the site.
Once a sci-fi idea, virtual reality is now a useful and commonly-used tool in industry. It has proven its effectiveness in cutting costs, helping an Alabama hospital shave $250,000 off its bottom line by replacing physical mock-ups.
Equally popular with VR is AR, or augmented reality. Google Glass may not have become a household product, but the system has found a home in manufacturing applications. The DAQRI smart helmet and an iOS app called Air Measure bring BIM to the jobsite in new and immersive ways.
Photo via AGCO.
Circular Business Models
Circular building is less of an innovation and more of an innovative shift in thinking. These buildings are referred to as “circular” because they are built to be deconstructed and their materials reused.
Speaking for European construction firm Royal BAM, Nitesh Magdani said, “In effect, we’re trying to create ways to lease materials, so that this future value can be captured.”
The ancient Romans knew how to pave their roadways with self-healing concrete, but modern engineers have yet to catch up. Materials scientists at Rutgers University may be close, however, with their experimentation with the fungus Trichoderma reesei that fixes cracks as they form.
Solar and “Smart” Roadways
Last year, the Federal Highway Administration gave a big boost to proponents of solar roads when they granted $750,000 to a firm called Solar Roadways. Solar roadways feature embedded solar panels that may “pay for themselves” by generating power.
Glow-in-the-dark roadways and roadways designed to charge electric cars may be in our future as well.