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Covid, Grenfell, Net Zero likely to drive AI and automation take-up – CITB report

The pandemic, Grenfell Tower Inquiry and the decarbonisation agenda will likely increase adoption of Artificial Intelligence (#AI) and #automation, according to new @CITB research

In one of the largest studies of its kind, CITB asked 1,500 construction employers, 97% being SMEs, for views on the use of these new technologies. Only 3% said they used AI, with fewer than 10% using automation or related tools like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) or drones.

Barriers to greater adoption included a lack of high-speed internet connections in remote areas, limited data collection and sharing, high costs and rapidly changing technology. The employers added that Government commitments on Net Zero would likely be a key driver for adoption in future.   

Nearly two thirds of large employers with 250 or more employees said they used at least five new technologies, though this fell to 31% for firms with 25-99 staff, and 15% for those with 10-24.

CITB senior research lead Martin Turner said: “As has become clear during the past year, new technologies can prove very effective in transforming ‘business as usual’. They can provide real benefits for construction employers, and the pandemic has in all probability helped spur on their use.

“During 2021 we’ll be developing plans for a digital skills framework to help establish more standardisation within training, and also to encourage increased take-up.

“Given the low take-up revealed by this research, it’s clear that smaller firms need more help in accessing the benefits of transformative technology like AI and automation.

“We will support them by funding pilot projects aimed at providing digital leadership training, with a focus on the needs of SMEs and the supply chain.”

Although CITB’s research was started during 2019 and pre-Covid, it states the pandemic and emphasis on safer working conditions will likely accelerate the adoption of technologies like AI and automation.

The report adds that the Grenfell Tower Inquiry will almost certainly see new safety requirements for tall buildings. Sensors, for example, can improve structural monitoring, while better use of data will help pinpoint issues with components and materials and identify affected buildings. The draft Safety Bill would also require more accurate records, improved data collection and sharing.

Read Artificial Intelligence And Automation In the Construction Industry

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) works with industry and government to research the sector’s needs, fund training, improve standards and ensure the industry has the workforce it needs. It is paid for by a levy on the construction industry itself. CITB is an arm’s-length body of the Department for Education.

Examples in the report of employers using automation include Costain, which is trialling an automated site diary, replacing traditional paper by allowing live data to be gathered through mobile apps. The diary generates reports with details like weather data, time stamps and location added automatically, helping identify earlier where projects and costs might overrun, while achieving efficiencies by automatically updating instead of having to complete paperwork at the end of the day.

Similarly, Kier is working with Cambridge University and software developer nPlan on AI that detects patterns in tasks and scheduling, to predict delays and risk. This helps guide decisions on commissioning, with contractors sharing data to improve project delivery.


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