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Six Technologies that Could Change the Construction Industry - Videos

May 23, 2015

The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, better known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), is a regional intergovernmental political and economic union consisting of all Arab states of the Persian Gulf, except for Iraq (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates). It has only been in existence for a few years. But that’s long enough for some magnificent construction to have been put in place — $180 billion spent last year alone — as the region’s rulers contemplate diversifying from an oil-based economy to one that is service- and tourism-based and are therefore seeking international recognition and investment.

Burj_DubaiIt’s also long enough for an online magazine to have been developed to provide news, analysis and commentary on building in the Middle East. Construction Week Online has been reporting about the rise of building information modelling (BIM) in the GCC a lot lately, not only praising its use in all those skyscrapers but also anticipating its help in connecting the seven nations’ electrical grids. But now, Construction Week has rounded up “six construction technology tools that could aid BIM in providing technologically-sound and intelligent construction in the GCCs over the next few years.”

Included are drones for surveying, 3D printing, smart roads, smart helmets, anti-collision software and transparent solar panels. We’re impressed by the list and think these innovations could have a revolutionary impact on the construction industry in this part of the world, too. We also like the cool videos that illustrate each technology!

Use the following links to access the individual segments.

View the entire presentation

Drones for Surveying

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At the behest of government agencies in the region and with support from the private sector, drones are being used increasingly in GCC countries by construction firms, mapping firms, and public agencies. Even here in the U.S., a growing number of contractors are using camera-mounted unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to obtain real-time data on job progress, identify potential hazards or quality issues, and help acquire other useful information in a very expeditious and cost-effective manner — especially on large, complex projects.

But proceed with caution! While the commercial use of UAVs is not technically illegal in the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has held that it has regulatory authority over their use and has been sending cease and desist letters to companies as well as individuals it suspects of violating its UAV policy. Trouble is, the law is still up in the air on this issue and FAA’s drone policy is unclear.

Better guidance may be forthcoming this fall. Congress passed the “FAA Modernization and Reform Act” in 2012, which among other things, requires the FAA to fully integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System by September 2015. It also compels the FAA to issue rules clarifying when commercial UAV use is legally permissable. Construction companies using or considering the use of UAVs on their projects should consult their risk-management advisers or other legal resources to determine if they are in compliance with their commercial general liability (CGL) policies and applicable laws.

3D Printing

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“3D printing’s fascinating abilities to mold just about anything out of the right materials with a compatible printer” is inspiring constructors around the world. “While yet to find serious investors in the GCC market, 3D printing has found uptake with international firms.” The video that accompanies this segment depicts the process Chinese firm WinSun used to construct ten full-sized houses in just one day.

Construction Week Online concludes that “reduction of material wastage has been touted as one of 3D printing’s greatest advantages, but the GCC’s fast-paced construction industry may do well by using 3D printers to accomplish its targets at increased speed with reduced project costs.” That’s something for constructors in the U.S. to contemplate as well.

Smart Roads

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The potential of Smart Transportation Systems (STS) is enormous: improvements in travel time and road safety, reductions in congestion, and improvements in the performance of the road system and fuel efficiency can easily be translated into economic benefits. Such systems rely not only on improved sensors and control devices and clever methods for managing the complex traffic flows but also on computer networks and similar ‘cyber’ elements. But “until software to eradicate bottleneck traffic jams and weed out bad drivers is developed, the next best thing may just be solar-powered and energy efficient smart roadways.”

Smart roadway technologies are being developed in Netherlands and the USA. The video that accompanies this segment features a Dutch designer’s work in creating road decks with designs such as glow-in-the-dark lining, dynamic paint, interactive light and electric priority lanes.

Transparent Solar Panels

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Solar panels have traditionally been opaque slabs of sustainable material, which, despite their benefits, can pose design constraints on architects and landscape consultants. However, a team of chemical engineers from Michigan State University (MSU) has developed a film that lets in light when placed over windows, but also generates solar power.

The researchers used organic luminescent salts to absorb near-infrared energy. As Construction Week Online explains, “[t]he energy travels along the plastic coating to the edge of the panel to be converted using the usual photovoltaic solar cells, which are applied in thin strips.” Based on that research, a new company launched in California has developed a product called ClearView Power, a transparent coating that enables any surface to convert ambient light into useful electricity without impacting the way it looks, as illustrated in the accompanying video which shows how transparent solar panels can be applied on skyscrapers for power generation.

Smart Helmet

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Invented by USA-based Daqri, a developer of augmented reality products, Smart Helmet is no ordinary hardhat. It uses 4D augmented reality technology and has a transparent visor and special lenses that serve as a heads-up display, along with an array of cameras and sensors that help users navigate and gather information about their environment.

A key goal is to give workers visual instructions or cues to carry out tasks and alert them to hazards. One example might be a valve in a production plant that has reverse threading; augmented-reality could show workers a simulated arrow indicating which direction they should turn a handle. The helmet’s form factor offers a more convenient hands-free experience than the smartphones and tablets most commonly used for such applications.

The head-mounted display improves productivity, safety and efficiency by allowing work instructions to be seen through the helmet in the context of the job being done. But it takes a lot of computer power to run this space-age hard hat. And it doesn’t come cheaply. Watch the fascinating video for more information.

Anti-Collision Software

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This final segment features the SK Asteroid platform solution, developed by a Dubai-based software firm in collaboration with technology company SAP to promote construction site safety. The 3D system monitors the position, movement, weight, inertia, wind speed and direction of construction site equipment such as tower cranes.

All collected information can be viewed on dashboards and mobile devices, while sensors may also be attached to on-site workers for greater insights. Corrective measures can be enabled using auto pilot controls on each machine, thus promoting safety on the site. The accompanying video further explains the development of this anti-collision system.