The construction worker of the future

The construction worker of the future

by ROB McKINNEY, ConAppGuru | Aug 3, 2015

Last month, I delivered a webinar entitled “The Construction Worker of the Future” for the AGC of America and Intuit Quickbase. The webinar focused on a short history describing the evolution of technology in the Construction Industry and my ideas about what the future holds for construction workers. We are currently in a very exciting time of change and evolution in the industry.

Back in 1989, the popular movie Back to the Future Part II revealed a glimpse of what the world would be like on October 21, 2015. According to Robert Zemeckis, the film’s director, the future shown in the movie was not meant to be an accurate depiction of today’s reality. Interestingly though, the film did correctly predict a few of technological advances we enjoy today. Future items shown in the movie that many people take for granted today include the flat panel television sets mounted on walls, ability to watch six channels at once thanks to DVR’s, and internet video chat systems such as Go To Meeting.

T H E  P A S T

The construction industry has used technology since the time of the ancient pyramids. From the start of mass scale projects such as the Roman Aqueducts, building professionals have sought out new tools to improve the process they used.

  • Abacus: This early form of technology assisted builders with basic math. The Abacus allowed users the ability of to keeping count of items beyond their fingers and toes! This tool was originally used by merchants for business transactions;
  • Builder’s Level: The early “Dumpy” levels assisted builders with establishing or checking points on the same plane. These devices contained a self-leveling bubble to ensure accuracy in setup;
  • Main Frame Computer: These early machines allowed engineers to solve more complex equations. The original versions took up entire rooms and even floors of buildings.

T H E  P R E S E N T

The evolution of technology used on construction projects has accelerated rapidly over the past few decades. It is amazing to think that there are people still working in the industry that can remember what life was like prior to cable television, the internet and smart devices. These seasoned Construction Professionals were able to build projects without the aid of hand held calculators, laptops, and apps!

  • The Cloud: The Cloud is the magical thing that enables modern construction practices. This digital place gives contractors the ability to store project specifications, plans and other documentation for real time access by any employee and any time.
  • Smart Phones: The introduction of devices such as the Blackberry gave Construction Professionals the power of communication in their hands. Receiving a phone call on a cell phone is good, sending a picture of an unsafe condition to a company President is powerful!
  • Tablets: The acceptance of devices such as the iPad on construction projects have revolutionized how project documents are shared, viewed and updated. The iPad was a ground breaking device, it allowed project superintendents to take traditional office workflows such as marking up plans, submitting RFI’s, generating punch list, and documenting safety items out into the field.
Future lunch atop a skyscraper: OSHA would still have a field day with this crew, as imagined by artist Fredy Wenzel.

Future lunch atop a skyscraper: OSHA would still have a field day with this crew, as imagined by artist Fredy Wenzel.

T H E  F U T U R E

What will the year 2020 look like on a Construction Project site? Will drones hover over sites all day, taking picture and scanning stockpiles? Or will they deliver an AED to an employee in distress?

  • Software on Demand: One major challenge in construction is managing many job sites and they ALL have different needs. So you have to find a way of customizing applications but not spending a lot of time and money doing it. There’s a whole wave of Rapid Application Development platforms out there  (or RAD for short) such as Intuit QuickBase that let you do this.  With RAD platforms, you can build your own apps  without coding  to do exactly what you want to in just minutes. This means you don’t have to rely on an IT department  and the average Construction Professional can become his own developer of applications.  So you don’t have to wait on IT, you can build it yourself even if you’re not a techie.  The really exciting thing about RAD is that it “democratizes” technology and applications so anyone can build what they want  which is super powerful.
  • Laser Scanning:  Platforms such as Matterport and Google’s Project Tango are changing the way we capture data in the field. The Matterport Platform offer contractors a less expensive but extremely accurate way to scan the interior spaces they are building. One great example of this is an Atlanta based firm called “We Get Around”. Last year they scanned one of my wood frame projects and produced a detailed 360-degree walk-around map of the project site.
  • Drones: There are many benefits that Construction companies can realize for using Drones on their project sites. Drones can provides hourly updates about project condition by taking photos, videos and scanning the project site. In the future a Drone could be deployed on a project to deliver a constant stream of data to the project site and main office.
  • iBeacons: These low energy Bluetooth devices will allow companies to track employee and material locations. iBeacons are small Bluetooth enabled boxes that transmit location information from users. They are great for indoor mapping where GPS struggles. Many big retail stores such as Apple are using iBeacons already to push marketing and specials to shoppers. In the future Construction Companies will be able to use iBeacons to track employee location for time management, safety hazards and production needs.
  • Wearables: The introduction of wearable technology has already begun to change the construction industry. Devices such as Google Glass and the Fitbit have made an impact. The first version of Google Glass allowed the wearer to take pictures and record videos of the things that they were looking at. This means that a project superintendent wearing a Google Glass could walk a project site and document his findings in real time using the Google Glass unit.

What do you think the future will look like for the construction worker? Will we replace flat panel screens with Holograms? Will employees wear hard hats with real time displays? Will the automobile be replaced by a hovercraft?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Please enter them in the comments section here.

A certified Construction Risk and Insurance Specialist (CRIS), the author is an avid technology enthusiast and founder of ConAppGuru: A website dedicated to advancing tech use in the AEC communityBy day, he is also a construction risk engineer in the Atlanta office of global insurer XL Catlin.

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