Six must-have construction tech tools
Reviewing and previewing the best tech tools and ideas for GCC construction
The year 2015 will be remembered for the rise of building information modelling in the GCC, with pioneers from the UAE and Qatar pushing for the software’s uptake across their local building markets over the last year.
BIM will undoubtedly enable engineers and designers to deliver smart city ambitions over the next decade each of the countries, but BIM cannot do the job alone. Construction Week rounds up six construction technology tools that could aid BIM in providing technologically-sound and intelligent construction in the GCC’s over the next few years.
Remote-controlled unmanned aircrafts have come under the scanner in the UAE following the global surge in the popularity of drone technology.
UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) regulates the use of drones for security concerns, and as such, operating drones for recreational and commercial purposes near airports, residential, populated and restricted areas is not permitted.
Nevertheless, the UAE’s, and more specifically, Dubai’s government agencies have started to see the benefits of drones for construction site surveillance. Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), Dubai’s most active proponent of incorporating technology into its construction processes, conducted a sensible test run by flying a drone to monitor project progress across various sites in October 2014.
The UAE’s Minister of Labour Saqr Ghobash launched a remote-controlled drone in 2014 to support the inspectors’ squad at the ministry during their field campaigns, especially for recording violations at construction sites during the midday break periods.
Drones are picking up pace with the GCC’s private sector too. Benjamin Lehmann, founder and CEO of Lehmann Aviation told Construction Week in October 2014 that his company’s drones are being used by construction firms in the UAE, mapping firms in Kuwait and public agencies in Oman.
“We believe that the Middle East market will grow significantly in the coming years since there is plenty of construction [and] oil & gas needs for aerial monitoring for safety reasons,” Lehmann added.
An example of using drones to survey construction work can be viewed here:
American sitcom The Big Bang Theory shed light on 3D printing’s fascinating abilities to mould just about anything out of the right materials with a compatible printer in 2013, and global construction markets seem to have caught on since.
In January 2015, tech website CNET reported Chinese firm WinSun had completed the construction of a five-storey apartment building and a 1,100 square metre (11,840 square foot) villa using a 3D printer. WinSun had, in March 2014, also constructed 10 “full-sized houses within just one day”, according to Chinese news website Xinhuanet.
While yet to find serious investors in the GCC market, 3D printing has found uptake with international firms such as Arup and Autodesk, who have considerable projects in the region. Arup recently announced it has used 3D printing techniques to create structural elements which could reduce the overall weight of a total structure by 40%.
Salomé Galjaard, team leader at Arup says, "In the case of this particular piece, the height is approximately half that of one designed for traditional production methods, while the direct weight reduction per node is 75%. But the really exciting part is that this technique can potentially be applied to any industry that uses complex, high quality, metal products."
Reduction of material wastage has been touted as one of 3D printing’s greatest advantages, but the GCC’s fast-paced construction industry may do well by using 3D printers to accomplish its targets at increased speed with reduced project costs.
See the process behind WinSun’s record of 3D printing 10 houses here:
Until software to eradicate bottleneck traffic jams and weed out bad drivers is developed, the next best thing may just be solar-powered and energy efficient smart roadways.
Smart roadway technologies are being developed in Netherlands and the USA. Designer Daan Roosegaarde is collaborating with Dutch construction firm Heijmans on Smart Highway, a plan which involves creating road decks with designs such as glow-in-the-dark lining, dynamic paint, interactive light and electric priority lane.
Auto enthusiasts from around the world have voiced their doubts regarding the durability and maintenance costs of smart roads. Proponents of smart road technologies, however, remain undettered.
Another Dutch firm, SolaRoad, is working on roadways with surfaces which can absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity. The firm claims adding solar power generation abilities to roads will take Netherlands closer to fulfilling its total energy consumption with solar power. In the first six months since SolaRoad’s test track was installed in Krommenie, on the outskirts of Amsterdam, the panels beneath the road have generated over 3,000kWh, the company announced.
No plans have yet been announced to adapt them for the GCC market. Dubai has, however, taken the initiative to promote electric vehicles in the city, with Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) launching 12 charging stations for electric cars in February 2015.
Hear Roosegaarde speak about Smart Highway's features in a video from August 2014 here:
Transparent Solar Panels
Solar panels have traditionally been opaque slabs of sustainable material, which, despite their benefits, can pose design constraints on architects and landscape consultants.
A team of chemical engineers from Michigan State University (MSU) is developing a product that may just counter the designing concerns – “a film that lets in light when placed over windows, but also generates solar power”.
In August 2014, American monthly Wired reported the team from MSU is using “organic luminescent salts to absorb near-infrared energy. The energy travels along the plastic coating to the edge of the panel to be converted using the usual photovoltaic solar cells, which are applied in thin strips here”.
California-based firm Ubiquitous Energy grew out of the MSU programme and has developed a product that ClearView Power, a transparent coating that enables any surface to convert ambient light into useful electricity without impacting the way it looks. ClearView can serve as an invisible, power-producing coating for windows, providing an onboard power source for electronic window functionality or to offset energy consumption in buildings.
Watch Ubiquitous Energy explain how transparent solar panels can be applied on skyscrapers for power generation:
Daqri, a developer of augmented reality products based in the USA has launched a hardhat called Smart Helmet.
While it may not have taken the internet by storm like tech giant Apple’s wearable, Apple Watch did, Daqri’s Smart Helmet adds a whole new perspective to how technology can be used to pave the way for intelligent construction practices.
Smart Helmet incorporates Daqri’s Intellitrack software, which uses the data from the helmet’s 360° navigation cameras and industrial-grade inertial measurement unit to create a complex mathematical model that understands how to avoid potential errors in tracking. Put simply, the helmet can map out the entire construction site for its user, as well as notify the user about any maintenance requirements for machinery.
Multiple Smart Helmet models can be integrated, meaning construction workers on large scale projects can stay connected through the helmet’s common interface instead of having to rely on cumbersome paperwork to come through.
Daqri has stated the helmet is built around Android OS, according to a report in Gizmag. Furthermore, construction companies can also develop their own apps to work with the helmet.
The company is expected to start shipping Smart Helmet models in October, but product pricing is yet to be revealed. Global tech circles, however, expect the helmet to come at a steep price.
Daqri's executives involved in the production of the helmet have spoken about their product. Watch the video here:
SK Solutions, a Dubai-based software firm headed by Severin Kezeu, has developed anti-collision systems in collaboration with technology company SAP to promote construction site safety.
The SK Asteroid platform solution, incorporated with SAP HANA, produced by SAP Technologies uses sensors on machinery to collect and analyse data, enabling safety and efficiency across the construction site. The 3D system monitors position; movement; weight; inertia; wind speed and direction of construction site equipment such as tower cranes.
All collected information can be viewed on dashboards and mobile devices, while sensors may also be attached to on-site workers for greater insights. Corrective measures can be enabled using auto pilot controls on each machine, thus promoting safety on the site.
“If you were my customer, the system could tell you that you will have a collision on your construction site next Thursday around 4pm based on the information collected from sensors on your machinery, the weather forecast, the supply chain data coming from logistics, the attitude of the crane driver, and the predictive maintenance of the equipment,” Kezeu told Forbes in June 2014.
Kezeu says more than 25% of his company’s projects are based in Dubai, and SK Solutions’ operations are carried out in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France, the UK and the USA.
Watch Kezeu talk about his partnership with SAP Technologies and his work on a project involving 250 cranes in Saudi Arabia: