Market Trends December 2017
Construction Tech Education Growing
Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Pennsylvania, which has several programs in the construction trades, is seeing record enrollment. Popular programs include carpentry, metal fabrication and welding technology, along with a new program in software engineering. The National Center for Education Statistics said undergraduate enrollment in the U.S. increased by 29% at two-year postsecondary institutions between 2000 and 2010 before falling off during the recession. The center is projecting enrollment at two-year schools to increase by 21% between 2015 and 2026, while overall undergraduate enrollment could grow by 14% over that span to 19.3 million students. Dancause credits local initiatives like Construction Trades Day, an annual event developed by Clay Township-based Landmark Homes in partnership with Thaddeus Stevens, for growing enrollment interest. The event introduces local high school students to career opportunities in the construction industry.
New Tech Affects Construction and Engineering
Today’s construction activity is at 2007 levels, and there are now at least 100,000 fewer skilled workers industry wide. McKinsey & Company estimates that if the industry adopted new technology to catch up to productivity gains in other sectors it could increase output by $1.6 trillion annually. Pulling together and sharing project information in the construction and engineering sector has been difficult, which has hurt productivity. But funding for construction technology startups is on the rise, with those startups raising $10 billion in investments from 2011 through early 2017, according to McKinsey & Company. Most of that technology focuses on the construction phase, including enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and document management tools. While roughly 1,000 companies were found to make products for construction, less than 200 developed solutions for design, preconstruction or operations.
AI Impacts Construction
A recent feature in Engineering News Record notes that artificial intelligence's deep learning abilities could have a significant impact on safety in construction. Deep learning is a system for artificial intelligence (AI) modeled after the human brain. With deep learning, computers learn from experience, the same way people do. Construction is the second-largest industry in the world, projected to reach $10 trillion by 2020, according to market reports based on data released by the Construction Intelligence Center. Construction is also one of the least safe industries, currently causing 20% of U.S. worker deaths, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor.
An AEC start-up called Smartvid.io, has created a software that inspects project photos and videos from construction sites and automatically detects safety risks. It was described as a jobsite inspector who never sleeps. Technology makes it possible for computers to "see" and recognize what's in a picture and be trained to spot things that are missing, from someone not wearing a hardhat or safety vest to scaffolding or stairs that lack railings. The skills don't require programmers; instead Smartvid.io shows its AI engines hundreds of thousands of photos of construction sites that have been identified as either safe or dangerous. The deep-learning system analyzes the data and teaches itself how to spot potential problems. There is also progress being made with autonomous construction vehicles and heavy equipment.
Leading manufacturers have demonstrated prototypes of self-driving dump trucks and front loaders. In the not-too-distant future, autonomous construction equipment, including bulldozers, graders and excavators, will be a common sight on jobsites around the world. AI is expected to continue making important contributions to safer construction environments. Generally, there are two kinds of AI solutions: fully autonomous tools, such as self-driving vehicles or car-welding robots, and technology that complements human judgment, yielding insights we just don't have time to find on our own.
AI Drives Retail Sales and Marketing
Artificial Intelligence has almost unlimited applications in retail sales and marketing, according to an analysis by Businessworld. Nearly 55% of Amazon’s sales come from personal recommendations made by AI and ML algorithms. AI can compare the preferences for each customer, sourced from hundreds of data points, which allows retailers to reach out with a customized path to closing a sale. Shoppers also receive suggestions based on what they’ve already bought. AI programs can also be used for image search or video search. Pinterest Lens lets customer point their camera at anything from a piece of furniture or an item of clothing and PL will help them find it online. This same mechanism drives a Guided Product Search that shows customers products that match what the AI thinks they are looking for. Sometimes this approach can backfire. Amazon recently reviewed its website after a British television report stated that Amazon’s algorithms were automatically suggesting bomb-making ingredients that were “Frequently bought together.” The Amazon customers receiving the suggestions were buying products such as cooking ingredients. Google and Facebook have also come under fire for allowing advertisers to direct ads to users who searched for or expressed interest in racist sentiments and hate speech.
Chatting with AI
Amazon wants people to be able to have long (20 minute) conversations with Alexa in the future. In order for that to happen, Al Lindsay, the vice president of Amazon’s Alexa Engine, says that Alexa would have to be everywhere and you would need to be able to talk to her from anywhere. Alexa would have to do all the things you would want an intelligent assistant to do for you, in a very conversational way. These capabilities would eliminate the need for a touch screen; you would just talk to Alexa and she would talk back to you.
Mobile 3D Printers
The Army Corps of Engineers and University of Illinois are among the organizations testing 3D printers that would allow the Army, Marines, National Guard, NASA and private companies to print concrete buildings, barriers, culverts and other structures on location. The printers can fit into a container or a cargo plane and be shipped to remote locations, allowing less expensive structures to be built with less manpower. Instead of buying plywood in the U.S. and paying to ship it to Afghanistan in order build barracks, the new three-dimensional printers can use sand, gravel and other aggregates from local sites to build concrete structures for a fraction of the price. On top of that, it can be done with fewer people, and more durably. Caterpillar is another partner, helping to make it possible to quickly and cheaply erect structures in disaster areas like Houston. At this point, the printer can produce barracks huts 16 by 32 by 8 feet high. NASA also has a long-term interest in the mission.
Target Pilots New Approach to Stores
Target has given their two-level store at Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis a $10 million overhaul that combines digital and technology upgrades, elevated merchandise presentations and fulfillment services. Nicollet Mall is literally next door to Target’s headquarters. The location is one of 45 remodels they’ve completed to date, with 65 more stores on track to be renovated before the holidays. The look is very modern, with concrete floors, wood-plank walls, LED lighting and elevated product displays. Merchandise is displayed in specialty shops throughout the store and home products are displayed in lifestyle settings. The remodeled food and beverage department has been moved to the front of stores. They are also testing a “Made in Minnesota” collection that includes products form local businesses and makers
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