Artificial Intelligence for Construction: what it is, how you can use it, and how it could change the industry
For Project Director Mela Academy
Artificial Intelligence at the construction site: How can AI change the construction industry?
Artificial Intelligence for Construction
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a technology that allows us to give machines (such as computers, phones, cars, etc.…) smart, human-like characteristics, such as visual recognition or the ability to make decisions. Artificial Intelligence enables machines to continuously learn and improve themselves based on the input they collect.
That being said, this is not as futuristic as you would think: in fact, we already use AI-based technology practically every day!
Many popular apps and websites use Artificial Intelligence technology: from Google search to e-commerce sites that suggest online purchases matching our taste, or even e-mails that offer entire phrases after typing just a few letters, or systems that can identify suspicious behaviour if, for example, you use a credit card in a country where you have never been.
Even when we say, “OK Google, turn on the living room lights”, we are issuing a command to an AI that is sophisticated enough to understand your voice and to translate it into an order that your lightning fixtures can understand.
To put it simply, artificial Intelligence uses mechanisms that imitate human Intelligence to accomplish specific tasks. Although it may have been the exclusive domain of Big Tech just a few years ago, nowadays, AI is available for small construction companies, thanks to simple tools such as Mela.
Fun fact: In Italy, during 2020, the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Artificial Intelligence solutions market saw profits or around 300 million euros, a 15% increase over 2019 figures (Data from Osservatorio Polimi)
Beyond some occasional mentions, the construction sector is still almost entirely out of the loop regarding AI.
Nonetheless, construction is one of the industries that shows the most potential for Artificial Intelligence, which will process a large amount of data in an intelligent and predictive manner. This will provide noticeable improvements in day-to-day site operations, such as:
- Providing real-time cost aggregates
- Helping place orders and simplify the supply chain
- Aiding people by placing a potentially-infinite amount of information at their disposal
- Improving safety at the construction site
- Identifying potential problems faster than a person can
- Preventing mistakes and delays
Let’s start with something simple: AI can help us gather information
The construction industry requires managing a large amount of data: contracts, pictures documenting the progress at a site, project documentation, shipping documentation and waybills, reports from the Project Director or the Safety Coordinator…
To put it simply, AI can help us catalogue and analyse this data. Starting from unstructured and heterogeneous data (such as e-mails, documents, and pictures), AI can play the role of a good secretary and create orderly summaries and organise information in a timeline.
That means some of the work will be done already!
At Mela, we have already built a significant advantage: the ability to simplify work tasks and save time spent on cumbersome tasks that provide little added value. Let’s look at how we are using AI to achieve this.
Artificial Intelligence and Construction Sites: how is it different from traditional software?
A construction management software can provide summaries of important information coming from the site, but it needs somebody to “feed” it, entering the exact data manually. Therefore, a person will have to collect the correct information, enter it into the appropriate field, and develop any conclusions. The management software acts as a platform to collect data we have already produced.
Instead, AI can analyse the site directly. Artificial Intelligence allows us to collect scattered data and upload it as a batch without organising it and processing it. Then, we can extract relevant and structured information from it, and the information obtained can then be entered into a traditional management software platform. AI helps people analyse data and enter it into management systems. However…
The price you have to pay is the statistical probability of gaining accurate information. An AI doesn’t say that a number is correct. Instead, it tells you that “it seems to be correct with a confidence of 99%.” But are humans ever 100% certain about anything?
Applying AI in a mobile app: how Mela used Artificial Intelligence to transform the way we archive and search for pictures
Compared to other more “cumbersome” technologies, the main advantage of AI is its versatility: it can be applied in a simple tool that provides high technological added value like the Mela app. The photos you take with Mela are analysed using an AI tool that can label the images and extract information from them, such as any text that appears on the picture.
For example, if I need to find a window or a pipe, I need to enter these keywords, and the app’s search results will show all the pictures containing said element. The best thing is that I will no longer need to place the images in folders or add manual labels, and I just need to write what I am looking for using a completely natural language.
The pictures you take with Mela are analysed using an AI tool that can label the images and extract information from them, such as any text that appears on the picture.