Smart construction: AI drives on-site safety, quality, lower wastage

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NEW DELHI : Construction companies are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence to efficiently manage the quality of projects and monitor the sites to ensure the safety of both workers and equipment.

Though AI adoption by construction firms is still at a nascent stage, industry executives said the technology has helped reduce wastage and pilferage of resources, track on-site visibility, and increase safety and efficiency.

Considering that construction of buildings, dams, roads among others are resource-intensive businesses, waste rates are high. To improve resource utilization, Larsen and Toubro (L&T) and Tata Projects have turned to emerging technologies. For instance, L&T is using image and video analytics to assess worker productivity at plants and construction sites.

“Our project sites, manufacturing bases, and more than 250,000 workers are now digitally connected,” said Anup Sahay, head, corporate strategy and special initiatives, L&T. “It helped us during the pandemic to help our workforce better. 70-75% of projects are using AI-enabled digital solutions,” he added.

AI has also led to faster turnaround time for transit mixers, which are used to mix cement etc., besides AI-enabled cameras are helping track workers who are not following proper safety protocols, such as wearing shoes, jackets, helmets and face shields. The cameras use computer vision technology to detect on-site aberrations and alert the project supervisors, Sahay said. It is also important to know how many vehicles entered a construction site, and what raw materials were they carrying, which can help avoid pilferage and wastage, said Atul Rai, chief executive, Staqu, an AI solutions provider.

Rai offers an AI-based software, Jarvis, to Tata Projects, allowing it to track the movement of vehicles and raw materials, besides workers’ safety. Image analytics using cameras monitor both vehicle types at construction zones, besides analysing the materials.

L&T, too, has launched similar initiatives using technology to automate number plate recognition (ANPR) and vehicle detection models to receive materials at project sites without manual intervention.

Considering that the construction sector primarily uses unorganized labour, with even large firms appointing third-party workers, it is important to track workers, said Rai. “In many cases, a contractor may charge for 30 labourers but only 15 people are working. The computer vision tools help solve this problem, too,” he added.

On-site cameras use facial-recognition software to keep a count of the number of workers. It allows companies to take attendance and ensure adequate workers are employed.

Staqu is in talks with two other construction companies to deploy Jarvis, but Rai did not disclose the names. He is also pitching the computer vision tool to track progress at a dam construction site. “Use of AI/ML is coming in for construction of factories, commercial buildings and commercial spaces,” said G. Sundararaman, senior vice president and head automation solutions, Wipro Infrastructure Engineering. “It’s not used effectively by firms right now, but is growing in some application areas,” he added.

While construction majors are early adopters of AI, Sundararaman said smaller firms are also showing interest.

“They realize that remote visibility, remote control and remote understanding of site performance can help them utilize their time and resources better, and grow the business,” he said. However, unlike other technologies, covid was not the key driver for the use of AI in construction. Firms realized that projects were suffering from budget overruns due to enormous delays as there were no transparent digital records to identify the weaknesses. “New technologies will help bring in the level of accountability to organizations,” said Sundararaman.

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