Learn to Embrace Impending Jobsite Autonomy

Jobsite autonomy is coming and contractors must welcome it to remain competitive.
By Troy Dahlin
June 28, 2022

While the construction industry has discussed an autonomous jobsite for years, it has remained an almost theoretical concept until now. Coupled with other market pressures, the recent proliferation of technology has moved the modern jobsite to the cusp of complete autonomy.

The manufacturing industry, for example, has automated large parts of its operations for increasingly specified and repetitive tasks. That contrasts with the average construction site, where working conditions change daily.

Technology is already changing the jobsite

With industries such as manufacturing and mining having turned to autonomous operations, the notion of automation is no longer a hypothetical possibility. This shift toward autonomy on the jobsite is rapidly happening. When industries adopt new technologies, it often leads to a reconfiguration of the value chain, resources and the talent needed to execute.

Intelligence and data collection are the foundation for a fully autonomous worksite. As jobs progress, the data workers collect makes the jobsite high performing and intelligent, and it is crucial to ensure workers complete jobs as designed.

Within construction, the autonomous, connected ecosystem cannot focus solely on productivity and efficiency. These operations must be pressure-checked for the safety of personnel and collision risks and the longer-term safety of a project’s construction.

When operators interact with autonomous machines, they can complete more complex work. Perhaps more importantly, as technology ushers in an autonomous worksite, it also helps make jobsites safer.

Reduce human error risks

There are benefits for everyone involved when it comes to a more autonomous jobsite. Those on the civil side often consider automation the cure to overcoming rising material costs and the ongoing skilled labor shortage. Automation helps coordinate people, products and precious resources to increase productivity.

But equally, or perhaps more, significant is the ability of automation to exponentially reduce the likelihood of human error. Consider collecting and reporting survey data, a traditionally cumbersome process as surveyors collected information using cell phone photos or with hand-written notes. Surveyors would then manually enter data into the software, increasing the risk of errors.

The industry has long needed new, automated solutions. When these automated solutions are used to create digital as-builts, it benefits the construction inspection process and enhances safety and quality while saving time and money.

The construction inspection process is necessary to maintain quality and ensure contracts are followed and metrics met. So, why not streamline the process?

Eliminate silos

Technology empowers field inspectors to perform their tasks faster and more accurately. By using automated tools such as rovers to collect data, inspectors automatically associate that information with survey data collected during an inspection.

Additionally, inspectors don’t need to confirm another surveyor’s data, giving them confidence in the accuracy of data collected autonomously.

When information is integrated seamlessly into a system, it eliminates the silos, reduces the potential for human error during data collection and saves time by not having to verify work.

The user is the biggest hurdle

With all these technology enhancements and benefits, the obvious question is, why haven’t we adopted a more autonomous jobsite? It turns out, the user may be the biggest hurdle in achieving a fully autonomous jobsite. Traditionally, much of the construction process has been paper-intensive, meaning it’s been a slow transition to deploy technology more broadly—perhaps even more so than in other industries.

Some legacy operators have resisted the idea of new technology, though robots, machinery and equipment are already working hand-in-hand with workers on the jobsite. As the industry evolves and new and younger workers—especially those comfortable with learning new technology—join the workforce, this hesitation will inevitably subside.

Easy-to-use and practical applications, such as fully autonomous mobile reality capture and automating machinery such as excavators, help workers embrace technology and the autonomous revolution it enables.

Automation offers peace of mind

A survey of civil contractors, engineers and owners in a recent edition of The Civil Quarterly (TCQ) from Dodge Data & Analytics reveals companies use various reality capture tools on civil jobsites. Drones, aerial mapping and digital cameras are popular, emerging autonomous tools that will help bring about the autonomous jobsite and make projects safer. Laser scanners and GPS rovers will also see increased use for capturing data, completing calculations, verifying quality control and documenting progress.

Even before the pandemic, many contractors’ adoption and deployment of onsite technology had been growing. The broader use of onsite technology is significant because of its positive impact on many elements of the jobsite, from productivity to safety.

These applications lead to critical benefits throughout a project. Of those using reality capture tools, more than half reported improved ability to track work progress, manage schedules and budgets, and improve the quality of their projects.

The autonomous jobsite offers an additional layer of peace of mind for civil engineers, diminishing the likelihood of human error. Autonomy enables seamless interaction between civil engineers, planners, schedulers and contractors, as well as the plans they develop in an office environment and what workers on the jobsite execute.

It’s all about confidence

The biggest questions about new technology often focus on the practical applications in the real world. No industry should turn to technology just because it can. Instead, it should use technology to make jobs easier and safer and ensure project completion on budget and according to plan, and autonomy is the key to making that happen.

Capturing data in real-time has reached nearly every aspect of the construction process—from estimating, bidding and construction to completion and verification. Feeding intel to the jobsite ensures crews complete work on time and according to plan.

Errors and accidents are costly, ranging from the expense to fix a mishap and loss of time to the potential loss of life. But there’s endless information at our fingertips. Contractors must harness the tools and technology to interpret information to make the world and the jobsite as safe as possible.

by Troy Dahlin
Troy Dahlin serves as the vice president for the Heavy Construction Segment of Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon, in North America. He is responsible for the growth of the business through increased sales and market share. Prior to joining Hexagon, Dahlin served in senior leadership roles with construction firms in the Northwest United States where he oversaw business plans, staffing, budgets, financial reporting, negotiations, and other business management activities.

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