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Aggies post timeline of construction tech milestones

Aggies post timeline of
construction tech milestones

by ERIC JING DU, with SACHIN KUMAR SINGH and NISHITH SINGH | Oct 8, 2015

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A group of my graduate students at Texas A&M University’s Construction Science Dept. mapped the 100-year history of technological development relevant to the construction industry in the form of a Facebook timeline. By taking a comprehensive look backwards at technological milestones we can gain insight into critical information that is often overlooked.

Students compiled relevant videos, images and articles related to these developments. Over the course of this activity, various technology tools of the construction industry were discussed and below are the few excerpts from their Facebook timeline.

• Project Management: The Industrial Revolution led to the turnaround in the late 19th century that spawned the large-scale construction of modern infrastructure. Such large-scale developments led to the evolution of project planning after 1905, from Gantt charts to PERT and CPM methods. Although the personal computer arrived in the 1970s, computerized project planning actually had found its use in construction in 1956 when one of the first computers was programmed to perform scheduling.

Empire State Building (1930): Looking back, one can only marvel at the project's effective, low-tech delivery.  

Empire State Building (1930): Looking back, one can only marvel at the project's effective, low-tech delivery.  

• Building Information Modeling: The concept originated in the 1970s, but the first BIM tool was not formulated until 1997. Despite the promising nature of the tool, which provides a centralized data model for the entire project team, only 17% of the construction firms were leveraging this technology, according to a 2007 survey.

• Laser Scanning: This actually has been around since 1960s, and in 1993, the first laser scanner was used by surveyors and engineers. But the usage of laser scanners in construction only became prevalent in last few years. 

• 3D Printing: The capability came into existence back in 1984, and in recent years, was being highly used in the manufacturing industry. In January 2013, the first 2-m-long building block was 3D-printed, and by 2014, we were able to print the an entire house within 24 hours using this technology. 

• Drones/UAV: Our timeline shows that the first UAV was actually used 100 years ago for military purposes during World War I. But it was not until early this century when the commercial operation of drones started happening in industries such as filmmaking, transportation, agriculture etc. In fact, our industry really only started utilizing drones for data collection very recently. 

• Artificial Intelligence/ Big Data: AI originated during World War II, yet as our timeline shows, it was only in last 15 years that the big potential of AI and Big Data has been explored. The Intelligent Room (1999) at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab marked the beginning of this era.    

Walt Disney Concert Hall (2003): Won by Frank Gehry, the competition to design the downtown Los Angeles icon famously brought gaming technology into the AEC space in a big way. It has never left.

Walt Disney Concert Hall (2003): Won by Frank Gehry, the competition to design the downtown Los Angeles icon famously brought gaming technology into the AEC space in a big way. It has never left.

For the construction industry, where productivity has been a source of intense debate in recent years, integration of technology into the work processes has become a necessity for staying profitable and competitive. Learning from history by finding associations between past and present is absolutely rudimentary for the construction industry to flourish.

The main motivation behind developing this timeline is two-fold: 1) To identify the various new technologies that have the potential to improve the efficiency, quality and safety in the construction industry, and 2) To encourage construction companies to look back into the history of technological innovations and ask questions like: Why did we take so long to embrace those technologies that other industries have already been using successfully for years?

The main author is an assistant professor at Texas A&M University's College of Architecture in the Department of Construction Science. The two co-authors are both graduate students. The Facebook Timeline that they developed along with other students can be found here. Email Dr. Du at dujing@tamu.edu.

A version of this article first appeared in the Sept. 29, 2015 issue of ENR magazine.

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