I just attended my first ENR Future Tech conference in San Francisco. Though I am a regular attendee at SPAR International, I wasn’t sure what to expect from ENR’s Future Tech–it is much smaller than SPAR and is more geared toward the construction market.
One presentation in particular stood out by giving a look into what the construction worker, the jobsite and materials might look like in the year 2025. Todd Wynne, who is the Construction Technology Manager in the Dallas office of Rogers-O’Brien Construction, gave a presentation that was entertaining yet thought provoking and left me pondering how much of his look into the future might actually come to fruition.
Safety on the jobsite is always a high priority. Todd’s look at the Construction Worker of 2025 is one with many enhanced safety devices including a Smart Hard Hat with sensors, detectors and an augmented reality heads up display; an intelligent safety vest with biometric monitoring to track heart rate/stress, respiratory rate, skin temperature, and even a built-in defibrillator; an auto safety harness with fall detection sensors and auto inflatable airbags that deploy during a fall.
In addition to safety features, imagine an exoskeleton suite that amplifies a worker’s strength, endurance, agility, mobility and precision enabling him or her to perform tasks not thinkable in today’s world such as lifting materials and objects many times one’s own weight.
Todd also envisions a much different jobsite in 2025, such as one in which there are role-based machines, building machines and inspecting machines. The role-based machines might perform tasks such as demolition, lifting, building, assessing, inspecting and cleaning. For example, he mentions a super blimp capable of delivering the material for a concrete pour, or an autonomous drone that flies around the jobsite and performs inspections.
Building machines might be used for excavating, welding, drilling, hammering, pouring, assembling, etc. Some of the examples shown in the presentation looked a lot like a transformer robots. One particular machine was used to quickly and accurately lay brick.
Building materials also have evolved by 2025. Self-cleaning materials may be used that dissolve dirt, sterilize surfaces, or purify water and air. Some materials might be self-healing. For example, one of the inherent flaws of concrete is that it tends to crack allowing water to infiltrate. By embedding calcite-precipitating bacteria in the concrete mixture, it is possible to create concrete that has self-healing capacities. It basically fills in any new cracks all by itself.
Other materials might be self-adapting, such as shape-memory alloys that “remember” their original shapes and that when deformed, can be heated to return them to their previous shape. Another material might be electrochomic glass, whose light transmission properties are altered when voltage, light or heat is applied. Generally, the glass changes from translucent to transparent and provides the ability to save costs for heating, air-conditioning and lighting.
With just a hand full of examples, it isn’t too hard to begin to see the possibilities of what may be coming in the near future. One thing is clear though, advancements are being made every day. Each new advancement leads to others. Tomorrow’s world will see enhanced safety for construction workers, machines will automatically perform tasks or amplify a workers abilities, and construction materials will have changing properties that help resolve common design and construction issues. At the rate things are changing will we even have to wait until 2025 so see these changes? Only time will tell.