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Future vision: How construction sites will look in the future

Driverless plant, digital glasses and components printed out in site offices all feature in the construction industry of the near future, a technology expert has told NCE.

Fran Rabuck, an independent consultant and previously director of technology research at Bentley Systems in the US, set out his vision for how products in development will improve the way infrastructure projects are delivered.

Rabuck, also a member of the Global Advisory Council for the World Future Society, said contractors needed to come together to take advantage of the opportunities and shape their own future.

“Productivity in construction has been a fairly flat line,” he said. “The industry hasn’t been the quickest to adopt technology. But now that it’s becoming more globally competitive and extending into operation of infrastructure as well as design and build, I think that will change.”

Rabuck said the creation of the iPad had kickstarted an interest in technology in the construction industry that could rapidly transform the way things are built.

“In five or 10 years’ time, construction workers on site will be using devices on their wrists to give them information about a task,” he said. “This will link into building information models and drawings.

“I’m also pretty sure we will see digital pens, allowing workers to make very fine markings on drawings at pixel level while they are working on site.”

Although digital glasses have not broken through as many predicted as a consumer product, Rabuck believes focus is switching to finding industrial uses for them.

“These will not necessarily be for walking around a site but you could stand somewhere, put them on and get a real-time vision of the site at various levels. You could project drawings, overlaid with an image of the finished project.”

Rabuck also believes smart phones, tablets and glasses will become controlled by gesture rather than touch, allowing far quicker navigation through a drawing or model.

Other technology in development could lead to unmanned plant carrying out complex operations on its own, as well as advanced 3D printers that can receive instructions and print small items.

“Like driverless cars, there will be driverless machinery,” said Rabuck. “Some manufacturers already have machines that allow you to choose basic cut-and-fill exercises and will do them automatically. I see an evolution ofvehicles and of tools.”

He said construction companies should have clear methods of managing the amount of technology that would be coming on to sites, and also to ensure they have the right type of devices.

“We need consensus and standards,” he said. “Companies are risk averse but collectively this risk is minimised. And by coming together you can shape the type of technology that is created rather than waiting for the market to move.”

Rabuck last week addressed delegates at a web seminar hosted by IT community Fiatech. He told NCE this week that Fiatech was working well to bring together software firms, engineers, construction companies and others to shape technology development.

Speaking at the webinar he said camera drones could be sent into the air to record images of work taking place on construction sites.

“You cannot afford to ignore drones. Follow-me selfie drones could appear in toolboxes on sites,” Rabuck told delegates.

He also discussed the likely prominence of middle-sized mobile devices on construction sites.

“There are almost three tiers of devices now: phones, tablets and phablets, which are mini pads or supersized phones,” he said. “This middle tier is the most useful on construction sites.”

He added: “The phone is going to be the centre for everything we do personally and in the workplace. It will also become the centre of the internet of things.

“Phone processing speeds will continue to increase - they are now approaching the speeds that desktop computers were at a year ago. The use of cameras [on phones] is going to increase massively, and we will see multiple cameras for measuring and creating 3D images.”

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