PROPTECH-X ‘Proptech & Property’: Will Construction Sites Be Human-Free by 2050?

It’s time to start embracing the relentlessly efficient and never-sleeping construction technologies, says Andrew Stanton
Woman working in VR on construction site

The answer is probably no, but the reasons may surprise you.

Contech is in its infancy and receives only a tiny percentage of the tech sector funding budget, so in the next 30-years it is unlikely to become a mature technology. But these two factors are not the main inhibitors to digital progress.

Construction sites fall into the category of the built environment, where data is driving a cleverer way to build, for greater productivity and a higher level of communication through the supply chain.

We have all heard about smart or automated buildings where linked technologies make the space more responsive. At present we are only tinkering at the edges, concentrating on making lived in space a more comfortable cave to hang out in, either at work or at home.

There are exceptions, like Distech Controls who design spaces that integrate disparate building systems from multiple vendors into one open platform, with dashboards to provide insight and visibility into operations, alarms such as equipment faults, and trends including energy usage.

Similarly, HB Reavis are blazing the trail in the built workspace sector, with a holistic tech approach, or as they say, Symbiosy; a “mutual symbiosis between a space and the people.” Projects like the Nivy Tower in Bratislava, and the upcoming Vinohradska in Prague and DSTRCT in Berlin will be using design systems utilising tech, but it will be humans creating the reality.

“Maybe we are close to a technological watershed, an end to the thousands of accidents and fatalities in the construction sector worldwide…”

I know you may be thinking that we have the tech to automate most industries, cars for instance, so surely contech, using AI and robotics, could easily dominate the construction sector. Especially if construction moves towards digital prefabricated modular design.

After all, ICON construction has Vulcan the robot, capable of 3D printing a property in 72-hours. It’s cheap and efficient. Then there is SAM 100 the American Semi-Automated Mason, a bricklaying robot able to lay bricks more than six times faster than a human. SAM 100, of course, does not need rest, and it can’t be injured. Or even Hadrian X, the Australian robot with an inbuilt CAD system which it uses to project manage and build, aided by dynamic stabilisation, which is undergoing final trials.

Maybe we are close to a technological watershed, an end to the thousands of accidents and fatalities in the construction sector worldwide, and a more planned and less wasteful industry.

Well yes, you could be right, but it is like the aerospace industry. When I was a boy we landed on the moon, but the tech — god bless IBM — and resources were a massive dollar cost. So, 40-years later, spaceflight is not the norm, though mass production of small satellites may be on the up and of course, Elon Musk the space aviator is on a mission. But, unlike most, Musk has deep pockets.

Lack of investment is a primary reason holding back the introduction of a seamless, automated, efficient and much-needed disruptor to the industry, so too is people. As I saw recently in a successful award-winning proptech pitch given by Nucon to HB Reavis, paper is an equally major stumbling block.

Let’s talk money. Construction is a multi-billion-dollar game worldwide. Next year it will generate $24,334BN, and in America alone it will generate $1,293BN revenue. If you do the maths, you will see that there are some strong vested interests to keep the humans in construction. And some pretty big drivers to get contech involved with all processes.

Let’s talk people. The big sticking point, putting aside unions, financial interests, etc., is us humans. In America there are 7.2M people in construction. In China, where there are lots of humans, over 56M of them are in construction. Economically what are these people going to be doing if they leave the sector?

Let’s talk paper. Malaysian based Nucon, with its modern machine learning services, expounded a solution to the 20% cost of waste caused by a defective process in the construction sector. At the heart of the company’s solution was the hidden fact that most of the construction industry is run on paper.

Not just the planning but every painful point of the supply chain. Then, when defects occur, that is all neatly written down as well…so, a mountain of paper. This needs to be remedied and standardised globally, then significant savings, efficiency, and transparency will also bring a new way to construct buildings. This will not be an overnight process.

Intriguingly, contech is the solution to the pivotal paradox that construction has; a massive and unending skills shortage dating back three decades. So a real tech revolution here is certain. This is why we should now start to embrace the relentlessly efficient and never-sleeping counterparts, that will in time plan, execute and build our shimmering utopian cities.

This article was first published by Unissu on 13th December 2019

Andrew Stanton is the founder and CEO of Proptech-PR, a consultancy for Founders of Proptechs looking to grow and exit, using his influence from decades of industry experience. Separately he is a consultant to some of the biggest names in global real estate, advising on sales and acquisitions, market positioning, and operations. He is also the founder and editor of Proptech-X Proptech & Property News, where his insights, connections and detailed analysis and commentary on proptech and real estate are second to none.

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