Building the future at Autodesk University: 4 technology takeaways

What happens when you go back to school? Every year we hit the “classroom” at Autodesk University. As one of the preeminent technology conferences in our industry, AU is where we get to learn about new tools of our trade, connect with a network of like-minded innovators, and explore ideas that challenge the status quo. AU also provides us a window into the applications of similar technology in other industries such as automotive, high tech and the film industry, which can spur innovative thought in construction. Skanska has been attending AU for more than ten years and each year we continue to see proof of how technology’s exponential growth is dramatically changing the way we collaborate, design, make and build. This year we were excited about four areas of research that will greatly impact our work. They include:

1.       Using smart machines for design and construction

The increased roles of machine learning — in which algorithms are used to learn from and make predictions on data — and artificial intelligence (AI) are making waves for the construction industry. With the vast amounts of data we create and are beginning to collect throughout a project’s life cycle, we will soon be in a position to use that data to inform better decision making. But getting to those decisions is an incredibly complex process, and that’s where machines are making it easier. Whereas human brains are naturally creative and great at pattern recognition, artificial intelligence can process information faster and simulate many outcomes based on an array of inputs

The result is a likely future where designers and AI-based applications can likely collaborate on designs — that future is closer than you might think. We also envision many roles for these types of tools in construction. Imagine using a model with built-in intelligence for logistics planning. As you make choices for site layout, you’d be given options from an intelligent system to make the site both safer and more efficient.

Today, machine learning is already having big impacts. It’s helping doctors analyze patient data for diagnosis and treatment, and helping banks monitor for fraud. Consider this: IBM’s Watson, a “cognitive computing” supercomputer that combines natural language processing and machine learning to glean insights from reams of data, can process 1,000 books a minute! Watson is also being used to fuel visualizations for accident analysis on jobsites, helping teams predict where accidents are most likely to occur or analyze the site factors influencing safety performance. It can also beat humans at Jeopardy:

While there is no replacing the tribal knowledge or hands-on experience of our people, artificial intelligence will help our teams by making historical knowledge more accessible and meaningful, allowing more time to apply people’s creativity and innovation to solve tomorrow’s new problems.

2.       Finding new ways to access and use data

Other industries benefit from full-scale prototyping processes to validate their designs prior to delivering the final commercial product. For obvious reasons, using similar processes in construction is very limited. However, 3-D models coupled with new virtual reality tools that make visualization more dynamic, immersive and empathetic have the potential to vastly improve design and construction processes. When we put ourselves closer to the design and planning process through virtual reality tools, we can experience the design before it’s built. This experience can help us understand the feasibility of that design sooner, and possibly simulate multiple approaches to construction before we put a shovel in the ground. As construction managers, the ability to utilize, synthesize and act on this information enables us to better partners to our design team.

BIMCITY-revised12.22.15The Skanska team visited “BIM City” at AU 2015.

It’s important to recognize that 3-D models and building information modeling (BIM) are more than just geometric representations of buildings – they are also a repository for a wealth of information. Throughout the design and construction phases of a project, we create and capture information that is extremely valuable to an owner for use in operating their building. Finding best ways to store and extract this data is a huge issue. The sheer number of discussions, classes and casual mentions at AU about extracting data from building information models (BIM) to leverage for operations was staggering, and a clear marker that the industry has recognized the need for better tools and processes to benefit owners. For the last few years, Skanska has been collaborating with some of our customers to explore the best ways for them and other owners to quickly access the information they need, and use it in a way that is most effective for apply it in a meaningful way to support their operations.

For example, we collaborated with George Washington University in Washington, D.C., to create protocols for developing building information models, so that design and construction model data can be more easily used by GW for operations and maintenance. This pioneering work resulted in GW’s Facilities Information Management Procedures Manual, a step toward much greater efficiency that few building owners have taken. With these standards set up front, GW’s designers and builders can create and maintain models that meet the university’s requirements to use them for operations and maintenance.

3. Recruiting millennial technology masters who offer fresh ideas

The AEC industry is on a precipice of change, and in order to truly forge ahead we need the ideas and energy of the next generation. A key challenge is attracting and retaining talent in an industry that has been historically slow to change and adapt new technology.

BIM enables new means of collaboration and makes information more accessible than ever before, which influences our decision making as well as our project approaches. In order to leverage new tools and information like BIM to Build What Matters, we need talented people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. The rise of new technology means that our tech-savvy employees – those with aptitude and interests in computer science, gaming and similar fields – will have a unique opportunity to shape our future. This also means that we need to think creatively about the people we’re hiring – the skills and backgrounds that made a great construction manager yesterday will be vastly different by 2020. Our talent pool and recruiting strategies are going to have to change to leverage technology and information.


Go behind the scenes at AU 2015 in 90 seconds.

With the BIM adoption rate going up across our industry, both Millennials and more experienced employees need have the skills to work with models. In response to this need, the University of Washington teamed with Skanska to establish a professional certificate in BIM. This program complements a professional degree or real-world experience by providing hands-on training with BIM tools – the technical focus of our course is a clear differentiator.

But as technology gets smarter and faster, the growing worries about what AEC jobs will look like in the future is real. As Autodesk Chief Technology Officer Jeff Kowalski mentioned in his keynote discussion about the future of our work, “A robot will not take your job – someone who uses a robot better than you will take your job.” The best thing we can do is help make sure our people are prepared to take on that challenge.

4. Enabling broader means of collaboration

Autodesk’s BIM 360 platform, which gives project teams the power to access project models and data in real time, continues to get more robust. We’ve been using it for years and our research indicates it typically saves more than 15 percent of a superintendent’s time in the field. Autodesk’s most recent addition to this platform – BIM 360 Docs – has the potential to streamline a number of our processes and drive efficiency in planning, preconstruction and in the field. We will be working closely with Autodesk to pilot this platform in early 2016.

The next evolution in making information more available is wearable devices. For instance, we’re currently testing applications of DAQRI, an augmented reality helmet that projects data and models directly onto a hands-free display to provide intuitive instructions for jobsite teams: we see this helping improve project safety.

Albert Zulps testing a DAQRI prototype

Skanska’s Albert Zulps tests a DAQRI at AU 2015.

But we see much greater potential than just streamlining the flow of information to project teams: we also see information flow becoming bi-directional. An example of this highlighted at AU is the real-time location system (RTLS) produced by Redpoint Positioning. Skanska recently teamed with Redpoint to test their RTLS technology on our 101 Seaport commercial development project in Boston’s Innovation District. Together, we combined their sensor technology with our BIM models to precisely track construction materials and team members during simulations. RTLS has the potential to leverage BIM so that teams can see actual 3-D location views as they walk a jobsite.

With safety, we used RTLS to define and demarcate zones in the model that contained a simulated risk – such as a fall hazard. When a worker wearing a safety vest connected to the location system entered that zone, the vest would flash to warn of the danger, providing instant feedback and environmental awareness. Additionally, as part of lean planning we are exploring how RTLS can help us better measure and refine manpower efficiency and constantly improve our construction schedules. We’ve built this technology into our new Skanska Boston office space at 101 Seaport, turning it into a living lab environment where we can dig deeper into the potential of RTLS, and show customers how it may benefit them.

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The team at 101 Seaport tests the Redpoint System.

We’re in the midst of some sea changes in the AEC industry, as technologies are emerging to better solve important customer needs. For those companies oriented around innovation, and planning for disruption, the opportunities are immense.

If you missed AU 2015, be sure to check out all the classes, keynotes and innovation forums available online: http://au.autodesk.com/au-online/overview.

 

 

Tony Colonna

Tony Colonna

Senior vice president of innovative construction solutions

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These 3 emerging technologies may help improve jobsite safety

Skanska is relentless in our efforts to ensure that project sites are injury-free, and a key aspect of that is developing, testing and evaluating solutions intended to reduce risk and prevent incidents. Below are three such technologies we’re currently exploring. For an even deeper dive, we’ll be discussing some of this at ENR’s FutureTech East Conference September 30 to October 1 in New York City.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality (VR) ties construction processes and safety protocols together by harnessing the potential that comes from being immersed in a 3-D environment: there’s no need to imagine a safety scenario when you’re able to physically experience a space that may not yet be built. Our virtual reality and gaming journey has included conducting research with the University of Washington and Virginia Tech, testing cave automatic virtual environments – better known by the acronym CAVE – and determining the possibilities of smart helmets such as DAQRI, an augmented reality helmet that projects data and models directly onto a hands-free display to provide intuitive instructions for jobsite teams. We’re excited about where we are today with this: employing technology to find better ways to achieve injury-free environments.

A great example of this is how we’re seeking to leverage VR to improve the Global Safety Stand Downs we hold whenever a serious incident occurs on any of our projects. Today, this important aspect of our safety culture involves our teams, company-wide, stopping work to discuss what occurred, sometimes with 3-D renderings of the incident scene supporting those conversations. But imagine how much more effective these stand downs would be if they included interactive animations of what happened. Even better, what if – through gaming technology – you could make choices, possibly leading to a different outcome in the animation? By engaging people on so many levels, VR enables learning via empathy since it places individuals at the center of the experience, which is quite powerful. Creating a library of interactive safety simulations is a current focus of ours, and we’re glad that OSHA shares our thinking, as seen through its Hazard Identification Training Tool.

GSSD_Screenshot1

We’re creating a library of interactive safety simulations to improve our safety training.

Real-time location systems

Real-time location systems (RTLS), such as Bluetooth-powered beacons or sensors, are being deployed to connect the physical and digital worlds in ways that make our lives easier and safer: they essentially function as an indoor GPS. For example, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in Boston is testing beacons that utilize a smartphone app to better track and understand rider behavior. And in healthcare, RTLS helps hospitals track critical equipment such as dialysis machines and “crash carts” for medical emergencies so they can be instantly located by staff.

We see great potential for RTLS in construction, especially as it relates to synchronizing BIM with the built environment to increase jobsite safety and efficiency. At our 101 Seaport commercial development project in Boston, we are teaming with Redpoint Positioning to test their RTLS technology with our BIM models to accurately and dynamically track materials and team members, giving us real-time visibility into jobsite operations. The safety implications here are tremendous: at any given time we can tell where a tool, material or person is on the jobsite and plan accordingly. For example, our teams can use the sensors with BIM models to define a hazardous area, such as a fall hazard. When a worker wearing a safety vest connected to the location system enters that hazardous zone, the vest will start flashing to warn of the danger, providing instant feedback and environmental awareness. This information is also transmitted to the appropriate manager, who can use it to log incidents and plan for more learning opportunities. Additionally, for lean planning, we will be exploring how RTLS helps drive manpower efficiency and continuous improvement for our construction schedules.

We see RTLS powering better ways of operating buildings too, such as  creating an interactive wayfinding experience for customers in an airport terminal or large mall; adding a layer of augmented reality to a hospitality or entertainment experience; increasing security for personnel or critical assets; or creating the infrastructure for a smart building that can aid building management and operations.  To further explore this technology, we’re building it into Skanska’s new Boston office, which will be at 101 Seaport. For more on how we’re testing real time location systems, check out this video:

Drones

By enabling us to better understand projects, drones have tremendous potential to help mitigate jobsite risks and enable smarter ways of building. And now that we have received our first drone certification from the FAA, we are excited to start using drones on some of our projects. For example, our joint venture on San Diego’s I-5 North Coast Corridor highway widening project is planning to use a drone for surveying in an environmentally sensitive lagoon that is off-limits to a conventional manned survey. Overall, we see drones becoming an important part of our project planning process. There are huge upsides with this emerging technology, and also significant challenges too. We’re working closely with the FAA to determine the best practices for jobsites.

Civil drone training session - CA

As we train more employees to use drones, we expect scenes like this to become more common on our construction sites. 

The future

Looking even further into the future of construction, we see artificial intelligence becoming key This might involve predictive analytics to forecast future outcomes and trends, self-driving construction vehicle, and robots – such as what we’re researching in the UK – that reduce the chance for human error. Furthermore, we see project sites becoming more industrialized through the use of prefabricated and modular construction, and 3-D printing becoming more mainstream.

Ultimately, these advances have significant potential to help both Skanska and the broader construction industry eliminate jobsite injuries. We can’t reach that target soon enough.

Tony Colonna

Tony Colonna

Senior vice president of innovative construction solutions

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Four ways to enable innovation in construction

At Skanska, we encourage our employees to continuously innovate for the benefit of our customers and our communities, transforming the way the construction industry approaches problems and solutions. Over the past few years, our employees have come up with ideas that have changed the way we manage and deliver projects, especially in the areas of prefabrication, BIM and through the use of mobile apps.

How have we fostered such innovation? Here are four principle ideas we follow:

1. Provide tangible support

In any industry, it’s tough to break away from “the way things have always been done,” especially when it requires a time commitment outside of the normal work day. We had to come up with a better approach.

In 2010, we launched an Innovation Grant Program, with dedicated resources and staff. At its foundation, the grant program provides funding to individuals and teams to research, develop and transform their ideas into repeatable solutions that deliver value. We “put our money where our mouth is” and, to date, Skanska has invested over $1 million in the grant program to support 25 projects. We have three full-time staff members devoted to this initiative: working with employees to brainstorm ideas, conducting research and implementing successful products throughout our organization. Additionally, we have established connections with nearly 15 universities and colleges to help work on grant research, which helps ensure our developments are on the cutting edge and which provides a way for talented students to engage with our industry.

2. Connecting people

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 The inSite Monitor app, which helps us better monitor environmental conditions in sensitive environments.

Meeting face to face is key to understanding people and the challenges they face. In the first year of our grant program, we traveled to jobsites across the country, meeting people and hearing what on the job might be keeping them up at night. After hearing several of the same stories, we started to connect people who shared issues and got them to brainstorm ways to improve. When people know they aren’t the only one facing an issue, they are more likely to work together to find a solution.

Our inSite Monitor app, for example, originated from our hearing about a hospital renovation project in Tampa, Fla., at which we needed to monitor dust and noise near an active neonatal intensive care unit. We had also been in touch with an employee in North Carolina who was interested in exploring mobile app technology (still an emerging technology at the time). We connected employees at both jobsites and, together, they came up with a concept and applied for a grant.

Today, the inSite app is a turn-key system any of our jobsites can put into use. The system monitors noise, vibration, dust and differential pressure and connects to an iPhone app so anyone on the project can view the data and will know of any issues in real time – compared to the old system where readings had to be taken manually at intervals throughout the day.

3. Create repeatable solutions

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The time our teams save using this DayFacts digital daily superintendent report gives them more time to devote to critical jobsite activities.

Grant applicants must keep in mind that ideas must be applicable across multiple regions or projects. This is important as Skanska has 39 offices nationwide. We want to focus on areas of our business where adoption of new methods will be high and scalable across the country.

Before DayFacts , our digital daily superintendent report, craft workers manually wrote down their daily reports of manpower, equipment, safety and weather, and submitted them to project superintendents – this process was time consuming and hard to track and archive. With this new web-based system that mirrors the old process, teams save three or more hours a week doing their reporting. Currently, the system has been used by over 250 jobsites across the country.

4. Recognize people

Our employees feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when they see their ideas through to implementation, as they know they are positively affecting how Skanska – and their colleagues – operate. We make sure to recognize our employees for their extra time and work. Throughout the grant process, we showcase the names and a faces of applicants on any internal publicity. Additionally, at our annual National Management Meeting, we give out an Innovation Award to someone who has gone above and beyond in their work supporting innovation.

These four principles have enabled Skanska to be at the forefront of such initiatives as BIM, prefabrication and jobsite efficiency, helping us lead the way in innovation.

 

Tony Colonna

Tony Colonna

Senior vice president of innovative construction solutions

More Posts - LinkedIn