10 ways to build better, faster, and greener with advanced construction technology

Explore the impact of digitalization on construction technology. Learn how AI, robotics, and BIM are reshaping efficiency, accuracy, and sustainability in modern builds.

A man wearing VR glasses is sitting at a desk with a building model projected on it.

Zach Mortice

June 25, 2024

min read
  • The digitalization of construction is reshaping the industry, integrating technologies to provide builders with detailed insights into operations.

  • By incorporating these technologies, construction firms will see improved efficiency, as well as cost and time savings.

  • As construction technologies advance, they will ultimately converge into an integrated data environment where building information modeling (BIM) emerges as the central platform.

The digitalization of construction is radically remaking hardware, software, and the role of human beings on build sites. Ever more granular and sensitive ways of harvesting and organizing data from the dust and dirt of a construction site give builders an increasingly clearer picture of how to make their operations more efficient.

But these dramatic gains don’t happen in isolation. More and more, today’s cutting-edge construction site is marked by the intense integration of numerous new technologies that inform each other.

For instance, before construction begins in earnest, machine learning algorithms might optimize bidding for materials, submitting the best price for the best material at just the right moment. As construction gets underway, a quadrupedal robot might walk the site, using artificial intelligence (AI) and reality-capture technology to navigate hazards and pitfalls, inspecting the site for completed work and safety risks, and using the information it collects to update a dynamic building information model (BIM). This feedback could be used to direct a 3D-printing robot that’s extruding lines of low-carbon concrete. As the concrete cures, progress is updated in the model.

These technologies give general contractors the ability to know what’s happening in each section and phase of their construction projects in unparalleled detail, saving time and costs along the way. The tools promise new levels of accuracy and expediency that can create a better—and more sustainable—built environment.

1. Minimize project risks with machine learning

A photograph of a construction site is overlaid with icons representing data points related to work hazards.
Machine learning can detect patterns on a jobsite, such as potential safety risks.

Machine learning is a subset of AI that uses algorithms to detect patterns in data or in the environment, dynamically reacting to these observations to refine performance. In many cases, these algorithms are sorting through behind-the-scenes construction data uploaded or generated within the software program you are using. They look through project-tracking software, drawings, models, approvals, and other documents to detect patterns, potential clashes, or safety risks. This information can be used to optimize project bidding or to resolve cost or schedule risks before construction begins.

EarthCam is a leading provider of live camera technology, content, and services. Construction teams use EarthCam to monitor and document their projects. From webcam content and live-streaming video to epic construction time lapses, EarthCam provides a comprehensive ecosystem of visual data solutions to enhance project management and promote transparency.

EarthCam also uses state-of-the-art server-side AI and edge computer vision, which surpasses the visual ability of human observers. The company uses AI object detection to automate alerts, tags, and visualizations. This means teams can spend less time manually observing projects and more energy taking action.

Matterport is a leading spatial data company focused on digitizing and indexing the built world. Matterport enables construction teams to create and share digital twins, which can be used to design, build, and operate any space. AI plays a critical role within the Matterport platform, with Matterport’s Cortex AI serving as the backbone for its entire technological framework.

Autodesk’s Construction IQ (part of Autodesk Construction Cloud) also uses machine learning to predict potential risks to projects before they become costly impacts downstream, by automatically suggesting root causes and associating a potential risk level. Construction IQ looks at risk in terms of design, quality, safety, and project management and allows users to create a dashboard that ranks issues by risk factors at both a project and cross-project level.

For instance, Construction IQ will flag subcontractors that have been assigned safety risk issues in the past or rank the urgency of RFIs, all from within Autodesk Construction Cloud. Construction IQ gives project teams actionable insight into where their project could go wrong, putting construction managers’ focus where it needs to be, exactly when it needs to be there.

2. Integrate robotics with new construction technologies

A man at a workstation is using a robot to help form a piece of architectural material.
Robots take many roles in construction, from shaping architectural elements to performing physical tasks on a jobsite.

The success of robotics as a construction technology is dependent on the advancement of other construction technology sectors and how well they integrate with each other. No matter what physical work a construction robot is performing—site mapping and inspection, material delivery, or component installation—on today’s digitalized construction site, this work can be successful only if these robots understand where they are in a physical space, how conditions around them are changing, and how what they do relates to the entire construction plan. That means seamless integration with reality capture platforms, construction management software, AI, BIM, and more.

Currently, AI-enabled robots are skilled uni-taskers but often lack flexibility. For example, the Hilti Jaibot is specifically designed to drill into ceilings. It understands how to change torque to push through various materials and knows what to do if it runs into rebar. Advanced Construction Robotics’s Tybot ties horizontal rebar with a gantry system. Weston Robot’s BUNKER, a dual-track delivery and hauling robot, navigates using LIDAR, can haul 132 pounds, and has four hours of battery charge.

One of the most common roles for robots on construction sites is autonomous site inspector. The viBOT by viACT is a quad-wheeled 3D scanner that can detect the use of required PPE and fire and smoke levels; track progress; recognize faces; and issue slip, trip, and fall alerts. Boston Dynamics’s Spot, recently made commercially available, uses articulated legs to access places wheels can’t tread.

3. Control project data with connected construction

Connected construction is an approach to digitalizing all construction activity, which is accelerating all the new ways on-site construction activity is translated into data. In general, connected construction refers to technologies that allow greater control and organization of construction data. These technologies can be expansive, tracking and managing project deadlines, material flows, and equipment usage, or they can be more granular.

Autodesk Takeoff, part of Construction Cloud, looks at how construction managers generate the quantities of materials they’ll need for a project. This feature can analyze plans and models, gathering component counts by defining an area or a linear projection. It can also apply unit costs for budget estimates.

In terms of broader applications, the most common digital project management uses are reality mapping and data integration. Platforms such as Evercam, NavVis, Oculo, and OpenSpace observe what’s happening on a construction site and verify progress.

4. Assess site safety and project workflow with augmented reality

Two construction workers view virtual site structures using augmented reality and tablets.
Augmented reality overlays virtual 3D elements on top of physical site elements.

A close cousin to virtual reality (VR)—a completely synthetic and immersive visual representation of an environment—augmented reality (AR) in construction overlays 3D building component models on top of real-world sites. This profound breakthrough means that builders can bring their BIM data set on-site and move through it spatially.

This process happens at varying levels of immersion, as platforms are integrated with handheld devices (such as smartphones and tablets) or headgear and glasses that determine a builder’s entire field of vision. These augmented visuals are used to assess construction safety, project workflow, and clash detection.

GAMMA AR overlays 3D BIM models on the construction site using AR that allows you to detect errors prior to constructing the building, reducing mistakes and unnecessary back-and-forth between parties. It can also be used to visualize models and designs prior to construction.

Construction site teams that utilize GAMMA AR for tracking progress on the job site can link data collected in the field with assets within Autodesk Build. Once linked, GAMMA AR progress data collected onsite can be visualized directly within 3D BIM models managed in Build.

Using the Resolve integration, teams can review their Autodesk Construction Cloud–hosted models in VR. Teams can leave comments in VR using speech-to-text, pull up critical 2D documents to validate models, and open large BIM projects on standalone VR devices. Resolve helps projects get more engagement with existing BIM assets to build safer, more efficient, and more sustainable facilities.

vGIS.io transforms spatial data—BIM, GIS, and 3D scans—into construction-grade digital twins and AR. vGIS comes with plug-ins for Autodesk Civil 3D, Revit, and Navisworks and directly integrates with Autodesk Construction Cloud to reduce or eliminate manual data preparation for AR.

Autodesk’s Workshop XR creates a project team roundtable where virtual avatars can inspect BIM models and explore them at a 1:1 scale. While collaborating in this virtual space, team members can zoom in and out of models, rotate them, and peel back layers of embedded data to diagnose problems and highlight workflow issues. Using VR headsets, Workshop XR offers new levels of immersion and representation, as the same team—represented by their avatars—can enter the model to get a closer look. Fully integrated with Autodesk Construction Cloud, this platform provides a common data environment for both technical and nontechnical associates, creating an intuitive representation of built work that is accessible as never before.

XYZ Reality lets construction teams view and position holograms of BIM models on-site with accuracy within 3 to 5 millimeters, validate in real time, and make immediate decisions in the field during all phases of construction. Combining engineering-grade AR technology and comprehensive project controls, XYZ Reality gives owners and contractors an accurate and objective way to manage and deliver projects and allows crews to build it right the first time.

5. Use AI to shrink project timelines and costs

A photograph of construction professionals in an office is overlaid with line drawings representing technology.
AI can power construction platforms that manage BIM data, monitor schedules, and coordinate IoT networks.

Like the robotics it’s often paired with, AI is an incredibly broad field of research that is most often applied to construction sites in narrowly focused ways. AI powers technology platforms that detect and predict safety risks, monitor construction schedules and flag delays, coordinate Internet of Things (IoT) networks, fly drones, and extrapolate new layers of metadata to be embedded in BIM models. In most cases, these AI algorithms are looking for time and cost efficiencies, as well as ways to minimize carbon emissions.

The Bimmatch product identification and procurement platform uses AI to select ideal materials and components for a given project, evaluating them according to cost, carbon footprint, and more. The platform (which functions as an Autodesk Revit plug-in) can automatically generate a bill of materials and promises to reduce the time spent manually searching for materials and components by 75%.

6. Manage costs, scheduling, and more with expanded BIM capabilities

A building model of London’s Blackfriars Station illustrates a range of building systems.
A 5D BIM model of London’s Blackfriars Station illustrates a range of building systems. Image courtesy of Network Rail and Jacobs®.

BIM products such as Autodesk BIM Collaborate, Revit, and Navisworks are steadily gaining traction as three-dimensional representations of architecture, engineering, construction, and operations (AECO) projects that are connected to the data flowing from construction sites.

At the same time, BIM is evolving into more complex dimensions that move beyond pure visual representation. These new iterations delve into more granular layers of project management. BIM levels (or “dimensions”) are expanding to incorporate project schedules, budgets, and more, all adding new types of metadata to the model.

For instance, 4D BIM is typically defined as integrating project scheduling and sequencing, allowing builders to see how individual elements under construction align with the overall plan, and verify their correct and sequential installation in real time.

5D BIM incorporates cost data, assigning dollar values to individual elements and generating updated budgets in response to changes on the construction site. For example, Galliford Try Costain and Atkins, a joint-venture partnership, used 5D BIM to expand an aging water treatment plant in Liverpool, England, that serves 600,000 people. Using Navisworks Manage and Autodesk Construction Cloud, the joint team used the digital model to rehearse construction sequences in advance of building and drew cost estimates from the models, helping to value-engineer pumping stations and other elements.

The next few dimensions of BIM are less defined, though 6D BIM has been defined as managing the sustainability and carbon footprint of building elements, and 7D BIM has been identified as incorporating maintenance, management, and operations data, juggling maintenance schedules, warranties, inspections, and more.

Eventually, as all phases of design, construction, and operations are integrated into the digital arena, BIM will encompass all of the other technologies discussed here as they plug into and communicate with each other through the platform.

7. Track networked devices with IoT

An engineer looks at a diagram of a machine on a tablet.
The construction IoT focuses on networking hardware on a jobsite to track essential data.

Construction’s Internet of Things (IoT), the networking of hardware across a jobsite, is becoming fundamental to coordinating the data needed to run a cost- and time-efficient site. Robotics and drones—perhaps scanning a site for incomplete work—need IoT to report their activities to the governing digital model. Networked fall sensors and other wearables can make construction sites much safer. Individual construction tools and vehicles can also benefit from IoT networking, which can monitor usage or the need for maintenance and repair.

Swedish construction firm Skanska has been developing a machine-learning platform that optimizes how mass haulers (trucks) circulate across construction sites, networking them to maximize efficiency and cost. Working with Ditio, a Norwegian tech company, Skanska is building an AI platform that will optimize truck routes to minimize idling and downtime, fuel usage, and maintenance expenses.

Tenna makes asset-tracking devices that can be affixed to equipment and vehicles. Tools include fleet trackers for large vehicles such as trucks, wireless GPS trackers for large machinery, Bluetooth trackers for smaller equipment, and QR codes for smaller items like power tools. Managers can see the location of their assets on a map and view past usage and maintenance history.

8. Dig deeper with advanced analytics tools

The value of new construction technology isn’t limited to visual representations of what’s happening onsite. Numerous document- and contract-management applications allow AECO team members to track changes across time and projects, examine vendor prequalifications, match vendors to projects, verify labor law compliance, and quickly share information with all relevant parties.

With the Data Connector tool in Autodesk Construction Cloud, teams can leverage their data beyond basic reporting or out-of-the-box dashboards. Data Connector allows teams to extract data from the platform for more customized slicing and dicing in other business intelligence tools. Additionally, through Data Connector is a streamlined integration with Microsoft Fabric to easily pull data and combine it with other data sources to unlock the potential of all data and lay the foundation for potential AI growth, as well.

Toric offers construction teams detailed data visualization tools that are compatible with BIM, integrating and interpreting data from more than 20 applications, from Autodesk Civil 3D to Pinterest, and organizing it in intuitively legible formats (charts, tables, models, text, and more), with no coding expertise necessary.

9. Generate detailed 3D models with LIDAR and drones

A construction worker flies a drone on a jobsite.
Drones collect information used to create detailed maps of construction sites and monitor progress.

Like robotics, aerial drones are becoming critical hardware for builders who need to maximize efficient management of their construction sites. The consumer drone market has witnessed explosive growth, and a plethora of versatile photogrammetry applications, used to create ultradetailed maps of sites and monitor construction progress, have made their way onto construction sites.

But drone flight times have been severely limited by the lithium-ion battery technology that powers them: to just 30 minutes max for consumer drones. That’s why the hydrogen-power-cell company H2GO is applying its compact fuel cell technology to aerial drones. H2GO’s safe and lightweight power cells last three times longer than typical lithium-ion batteries and generate zero carbon emissions.

A new generation of drones is incorporating LIDAR technology to create detailed 3D models from the air, using both fixed-wing and quadcopter drones. LIDAR, which assembles models from point clouds created by lasers flashed at a target thousands of times per second, offers much greater formal and textural detail than typical photogrammetry, making it better suited for forest and foliage-heavy surveying, as well as sites with dramatic topography. Additionally, buildings with complex formal features and uniquely articulated elements that need to be regularly inspected will require LIDAR.

DroneDeploy is a leading enterprise-grade site reality platform. The software converts jobsites, structures, and assets into easy-to-understand digital representations, generating valuable insights for construction teams. Through mapping, 3D modeling, analysis, and reporting, DroneDeploy provides a detailed and accurate digital replica of any site (interior or exterior buildings and earthworks), enabling project teams to take action, save time, and lower unforeseen costs. High-resolution aerial maps and 360 images from DroneDeploy can be exported to Autodesk Build, Autodesk Docs, or BIM 360.

Cintoo Cloud transforms terrestrial laser scan data into BIM-compatible reality data. The data can be shared, annotated, viewed, measured, and distributed for scan-to-BIM workflows. Beneficially, each scan position can be transformed into a 3D mesh up to 20 times smaller than the source point cloud, improving the accuracy of your design files. Project teams can turn back a set of scans, a work zone, slices, and crops or the whole project in its original point cloud format for consumption in desktop apps such as Autodesk AutoCAD, Revit, or Navisworks.

Hammer Missions makes map, model, and inspection report drone software. The company offers a standard suite of inspection applications for facades, roofs, wind turbines, cell towers, solar panels, and more, along with a unique stockpile measurement feature. This function allows builders to measure the exact volume of loose construction aggregate (sand, gravel, dirt, salt) after an aerial inspection with just a few clicks. The software can create an automated flight plan for a given site and assemble a 3D model of it. From here, the user sets the boundaries of the stockpile, and the software calculates its volume.

10. Design more flexibly with next-level prefabrication

Prefabricated homes take shape on a construction site.
Prefabrication is becoming more scalable, thanks to advances in robotics and material science.

The enduring dream of buildings assembled with the intuitive modularity of Legos is a wish that has often ended in heartbreak, but today’s prefabrication pioneers have focused on material science and robotics to circumvent the lack of scalability that thwarted past innovators.

Modular construction is hardly extinct; British engineering firm Bryden Wood used design for manufacturing and assembly (DfMA) processes to construct a series of modular corridors for London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports. These were built in a fabrication facility near the building site and craned into place.

Several young companies are looking at 3D printing to provide the winning combination of exacting, efficient standardization and design flexibility for modular construction. Mighty Buildings offers a hybrid 3D printing and offsite modular construction process. The company uses a proprietary low-emissions building material made of 60% recycled glass, which it claims is 70% the weight of concrete and five times stronger. This material is cured off-site using ultraviolet light and can be set in a diverse range of bespoke forms and shapes.

Icon Build is creating 3D-printed houses made out of a low-carbon concrete called Carbon X, which generates 42% lower carbon emissions than the company’s previous blend. According to the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub, it’s the lowest-carbon construction method in existence across a lifecycle basis. It even compares favorably to standard stick-built housing, producing 2%–6% less carbon emissions than a frame house. And while Icon Build’s initial 3D-printing robot was a single-story gantry, its latest iteration, Phoenix, is a multistory articulated robot arm. A full 110 feet in length, it can be trucked on- and off-site and build elements beyond the building shell, such as foundations and roofs.

As these technologies mature and gain technical proficiency, they’ll lose definition as discrete products and tools, eventually being subsumed into an all-encompassing data environment. BIM will likely take on this role as master coordinator. As it does, the function of BIM will shift from a visual tool to a holistic construction-management apparatus.

Zach Mortice

About Zach Mortice

Zach Mortice is an architectural journalist based in Chicago.

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