Internet of Things (IoT) transformation is taking place in all sectors whether we like it or not. The future is that of interconnected machines that communicate and aggregate data with each other. This has far-reaching consequences for the construction industry.
Traditionally, construction, like all industries, has used human-to-human interaction as the prime mode of communication. The IoT wants to enhance our communication and thus opens up two new modes of communication i.e machine-to-machine and human-to-machine.
What is IoT?
IoT envisages a future where almost all objects are equipped with sensors and processors that share data with each other through the Internet. From home appliances to heavy construction equipment, IoT suggests a world of interconnected devices. While the conventional Internet-connected humans across the globe, IoT aims to connect all objects across the globe.
The fact of the matter is that the IoT revolution has already started. From smart homes operated by digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa to Driverless Cars with countless sensors, IoT is certainly shaping up the future. The high-speed internet, cloud networking, and 4G internet protocols have made IoT a solid possibility.
One of the most important ideas to realize here is that IoT transformation runs parallel with Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. While IoT’s main aim is to gather as much data as possible through billions of sensors around the world, AI aims to be the brain behind the data. Therefore, IoT is directly linked with a future where human-to-machine (i.e human-to-AI) contact will become abundant.
A research report by Juniper highlighted that by 2020 the number of IoT devices interconnected with each other can reach 38 billion in 2020. This is almost a threefold increase in number since 2015.
Applications of IoT in Construction
While IoT transformation is still in its early stage, we can see a myriad of examples where IoT can be helpful in the construction industry.
IoT in Construction Safety
Wearable technology is profuse in the commercial space. On an industrial level, it can provide the management teams with real-time data about their worker’s vital signs. Current wrist wearable Activity Trackers can keep track of the user’s heart rate, distance walked and calories burned.
Construction is a labor-intensive field and worker’s health is a constant concern. With the activity trackers, the workers’ vital signs can be monitored remotely by the supervisors.
Besides the wrist wearable activity trackers, smart vests are also a pragmatic IoT application. Smart Vests can serve many functions as seen on the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) gold medallist innovation at the International Inventions Exhibition. This vest can keep the wearer cool, measures vital signs, and translate between languages.
Besides that, heavy equipment, floors, and sensitive areas can be equipped with sensors to deter anyone from approaching dangerously close. It is unfortunate that many accidents on-site occur due to worker’s negligence. IoT can help prevent such accidents.
The more you monitor, the less you would be prone to safety disasters on the worksite, and IoT with its vast array of sensors will allow you to do just that.
IoT in Construction Productivity with Augmented Reality
IoT and augmented reality can do wonders. A few vendors have already innovated on this idea with the invention of smart glasses. These enable the workers to work with overlays on their field-of-view in real-time. In addition to that, it allows the management team to also see the vision of the wearer remotely through a computer and also tag objects in the remote video feed.
This opens up many new possibilities. The supervisor can monitor, instruct, train, and manage the workforce directly via the worker’s field of vision. If an issue arises on the site, the supervisor can directly link to someone’s field-of-view instead of making sense of the oral explanation on the phone.
In other words, if you are an expert supervisor and you cannot be in multiple places at the same time, smart glasses on workers can enable you to do so.
IoT in Construction Efficiency with Equipment Monitoring/Corrective Maintenance
From repairs to work hour usage, all parameters of the construction equipment can be tracked. Sensors within heavy equipment from drills to excavators can send real-time data regarding the status of critical components.
The management team can track the work-hour usage of each machine to replace or perform corrective maintenance on any equipment before it can break down and cause any unnecessary delays.
Traditional construction workplace requires manual recording of the work hour usage and the condition of the equipment. IoT can take the middleman out since the equipment would talk to the management about its condition directly.
IoT in Construction Management
IoT can open up a whole new window for the management. Remote RFID sensors and facial recognition cameras can automatically log check-in times of the works and also record the absentees of the day.
IoT will also be the death knell for the archaic paperwork based administration. Almost every aspect of the management will move to smart devices and computers.
In addition to that, IoT can provide a vast resource of People Analytics to HR managers. Statistics about their health, their talents with equipment and their work habits. More data means that you can strategize your HR decisions more efficiently.
IoT can accelerate communication between the teams. With a lot of IoT devices recording data that can be shared instantly via the internet, the teams would be able to exchange ideas, fix problems, and make decisions like never before.
IoT for Construction-Site Security and Monitoring
Smart cameras with facial recognition and RFID tags can detect and deter any un-registered personnel or intruders approaching no-go areas. They can allow supervisors to remotely observe the construction site from anywhere across the world as long as they have an internet connection.
Image recognition cameras can also locate equipment by their tags. They can alert the team if a certain item is placed in an incorrect location. On top of that, they can monitor and analyze for any potential security breaches, leaks, and hazards on the worksite.
Downsides of IoT in Construction
While IoT is here to stay, mass adoption will not be as smooth as we expect. IoT does have some glaring issues.
Privacy and Security Threats
With IoT, all objects are interconnected. The objects could be sending data back and forth to each other, or sending it all to a centralized data center. The issue here is obvious. An interconnected network this vast is easily prone to data breaches and hacks.
A large construction company transforming to IoT standards would need to invest a large sum in maintaining an army of network security specialists to prevent any potential security threats.
Another issue is Data Leaks. Most IoT devices use cloud computing for communicating on the internet. The cloud servers are owned by third parties. Your data on a third-party server is a security risk in itself. For a large organization, this would not be an issue since they can establish their own cloud servers; however, for smaller organizations moving to IoT, this can certainly be a risk worth taking into account.
IoT is expensive. In fact, anything that has to do with information technology hardware is generally expensive. If a construction company wants to move to IoT standards permanently, they will need to perform an extensive cost-benefit analysis to see if the move would be worth it.
While IoT transformation in the construction industry is inevitable, it would not be possible for smaller organizations to take the financial risk so easily.