Return to December 2020 Update
- 6.a) Virtual communication & collaboration (Zoom, BIM360, Virtual site inspections, AR/VR, etc.)
- 6.b) Robotics, Automation, Mobile Unmanned Systems (MUS); 3D printing (additive manufacturing); etc.
- 6.c) Smart buildings: IT+OT; IoT, digital twin, big data – analytics & processing, sensors, AI, proptech, etc.
- 6.d) Other concepts (VDC, management, blockchain, smart contracts)
- 6.e) COVID-19 related innovations (for public); contact tracing, etc.
- 6.f) Cybersecurity / Privacy
The pandemic has accelerated contech adoption; the industry in 2020 adopted in one year what would have normally taken three, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to commercial real estate services firm JLL's latest "State of Construction Tech" report. High-impact areas of construction tech include digital collaboration, scanning, safety, wearables, BIM and CAD. Achieving moderate growth were technologies related to drones, jobs and employment, robotics, augmented and virtual reality and digital twins. JLL predicts that in the next few post-pandemic years the foundational technologies will be BIM, CAD, AI and digital collaboration. Other technologies that will have a significant impact on construction in the future are drones, scanning and modular construction. With labor shortages expected to worsen and wages expected to rise, the cost-benefit analysis for adding construction tech tools that can shorten schedules and use labor more efficiently will only tilt further toward the growing return on investment for new tech. The construction technology ecosystem is shifting toward integrated software platforms that better serve customer needs. Significant opportunities exist for strategic and financial investors.  Altus Group Limited, a leading provider of software, data solutions and independent advisory services to the global commercial real estate industry, announced that it has surpassed over 1,000 cloud-enabled ARGUS Enterprise (“AE”) customers.  Contech companies have benefitted from fresh funding no matter the pandemic challenges.  Real estate software and data analytics company RealPage to be acquired for $10.2 billion  According to New York City-based venture tracking firm CB Insights, despite the pandemic, funding for construction-related technology startups is on track to hit $1.3 billion in 2020, a 56% year-over-year increase from 2019. 
Notable funding recipients include: a) Percepto  (an Israel-based firm has taken its drone-in-a-box solution to the next level to create an autonomous inspection and monitoring platform; operating a fleet of third-party robots, including Boston Dynamic’s Spot mobile unit, alongside Percepto's autonomous Sparrow drone, Percepto said AIM provides visual data management and analysis to report trends and anomalies from sites remotely and to alert users to risks.); b) Alice Technologies  (a 3-year-old startup based in Menlo Park, California, is using AI to power its construction simulation platform; helping construction companies finish projects 15% faster, cut project labor costs by 16% and heavy equipment costs by 12%.); c) Falkbuilt  (a Calgary, Canada-based prefab building components company leverages its Echo machine-learning technology to boost existing industry software. called Digital Component Construction, precision cuts prefabricated components in the factory and ships them to jobsites for a faster, cleaner and more efficient installation.); d) Agora  (a San Francisco-based startup focuses on helping site supervisors order construction materials from the jobsite via a shopping cart on its smartphone app; foremen can submit requisitions from the field in under 30 seconds, and routes them back to the office where purchasing teams can manage vendor pricing, do more bids, and process purchase orders faster.); e) Core  (a Silicon Valley based jobs platform to better connect workers and their skills with construction companies who want to hire them.); f) Trade Hounds  (a Boston-based company launched in 2018 a smart phone app to approach construction's labor issue from the worker's side, giving tradespeople a platform for showcasing their work online; the app is considered as LinkedIn for the construction industry.) 
Cemex Ventures announced 10 finalists in construction tech startup competition : 1) Beawre Digital  (an AI-driven SaaS platform reducing budget overruns and delays in projects in real time, enabling continuous operational risk control on processes.); 2) CarbiCrete  (a cleantech company whose patented technology enables the production of cement-free, carbon-negative concrete made with industrial byproducts and captured carbon dioxide.); 3) Construyo  (Europe’s first marketplace and SaaS solution for the AEC industry); 4) Converge  (a platform that combines the power of AI, BIM and physical sensor data to optimize productivity and sustainability for the construction lifecycle); 5) Handle  (a software and financing platform to help construction contractors and suppliers ensure payment and have better access to capital); 6) HIBOO  (a SaaS application that processes construction equipment data and makes it easily accessible to field operations); 7) Modulous  (a generative design software and standardized kit of parts that designs and delivers sustainable and affordable homes through a distributed network of local assembly partners); 8) Okibo  (an autonomous indoor robot for application of construction materials); 9) Voyage Control  (a SaaS platform to help construction firms manage their logistics and supply chain more efficiently as well as to support their compliance needs); and 10) WaveScan Technologies  (a disruptive beam-forming electromagnetics firm that employs smart scanner systems and advanced AI algorithms). 
Video call fatigue is real. One in four employees (26%) also said the practicality and novelty of videoconferencing has worn off during the past 8 months. An April study from Clockwise found that employees were spending more time in both 1-on-1 meetings and team meetings. Clockwise said this increased the amount of “fragmented time” on employees’ schedules, which prevents people from doing focused work. Employees also were working about an extra hour per week. Experts suggest digital safety is a priority, keeping cameras on as much as possible and running meetings with a more intentional, deliberate format that actively solicits the opinions of team members. They also suggested canceling or moving meetings if they were not necessary.  To optimize WFH, employees should use apps to 1) organize everything; 2) tune out the quarantine-era noise; 3) keep remote software from kicking you out; 4) keep track of unanswered emails; 5) sign on the virtual line; 6) track expenses the easy way; and 7) keep fit. 
Technology has also become increasingly important for building inspectors. As remote jobsite inspections have become more prevalent and necessary in order to maintain social distancing, in September, the International Code Council (ICC) issued recommendations for their implementation.  The benefits of laser scanning and scan-to-BIM technology include easy management, visualization, and storage of data, that is easily accessed and mistakes are avoided through the process.  GIS solutions that interoperate with CAD and BIM are becoming commonplace. The industry is rapidly embracing easy methods of sharing information and collaborating, with GIS serving as a critical technology component. During engineering and design workflows, GIS professionals and AEC specialists need to work together. Each brings a unique perspective to infrastructure: the GIS professional provides insight into a larger context; and the designer/engineer provides insight into detailed infrastructure assets. Cat Command remote-control stations, available from Q1 2021, has the potential to give operators total almost-real-time control of their machines from anywhere in the world.  FlashParking  technologies are using cloud computing, remote management and custom hardware-as-a-service (HaaS) to improve oversight, simplify management and maintenance, and increase not only overall revenue but the number of potential revenue streams for parking structures. 
VR/AR are becoming crucial in re-reinvention of retail. New shopping technologies, like mixed reality, will come even closer to simulating the in-store experience, allowing customers to “try on” products from the comfort of their homes. And as physical and digital retail continue to merge, the next frontier will enable customers to interact with each other using a brand’s digital content. This will further a sense of community and create new avenues for customer engagement and enhanced brand affinity. In this moment, brands have a unique opportunity to be responsive and empathetic towards customers’ concerns and evolving behaviors, and build a new sense of belonging and trust. 
Google Cloud expands edge computing to help companies leverage AI and 5G. Among the uses Google envisions are warehouse robotics that can be controlled from the cloud, AR/VR services for factory technicians as they repair machines, enhanced live video from concerts or sporting events, and wider deployment of cashierless checkouts. However, any latency in these services could limit their utility. 
6.b) Robotics, Automation, Mobile Unmanned Systems (MUS); 3D printing (additive manufacturing); etc.
Supply chain automation implementation has been accelerated during the pandemic. Of supply chain managers who have piloted an automation solution, the results have been overwhelmingly positive, according to the Honeywell study. More than 85% say the solution has led to positive business outcomes for the company, and half say the positive outcomes are significant. Cost of implementation is the main reason for hesitance of investment in automation according to 55% of the polled managers. Nine in 10 companies see positive outcomes using automated storage and retrieval solutions (AS/RS) technology, a widely used automation solution across industries, however eight in 10 mentioned implementations were challenge. Installation, labor training and integration into other software systems can take anywhere from 12 to 24 months.  Smart factories, an innovative, holistic solution that enhances supply chain capabilities through the use of artificial intelligence, the IoT and robotics, are the future of supply chain resilience. Robotics and connected sensors provide enhanced analytical insights, reducing maintenance and warranty costs by getting ahead of key operational issues. What’s more, augmenting human work through AI allows manufacturers to enhance and streamline processes to better use worker time and abilities. On the whole, these transformations have proven to pay off financially while boosting employee satisfaction.  Sam's Club equips its fulfillment operations with robotic pickers guided by AI. Robotics can replace 50% to 70% of the labor for warehouse picking, depending on the type of inventory and order levels. The picking stations where employees work are typically six to nine feet apart, so they naturally support social distancing directives, Cashman noted. And an automated warehouse uses fewer people overall.  An example is the GreyOrange  automation system that can be installed in existing facilities in any type of real estate such as stores, distribution centers, warehouses and fulfillment centers. The number of robots varies based on the site requirements. Small click-and-collect sites operate with as few as three robots, while a large distribution center may have more than 500 units. Walmart is working with GAtik to test middle-mile driverless trucks.  Driverless cars in Shanghai form the world's first 'robotaxi' fleet. 
The life sciences and pharmaceutical industries ordered 21% more robotic units YoY in the first half of 2020, according to figures released by the Robotic Industries Association. For example, the increased need for automation became apparent for Eli Lilly early on in the pandemic when the pharmaceutical company began processing large numbers of COVID-19 tests - in four days they automated the entire process by adding 27 robots at 5 different stages. The handlers take on the process of pipetting, the technique used in a lab for moving liquid from one place to another. Automation allows samples and reagents to be pipetted more efficiently and accurately. Other common robotics applications in the life sciences world include automated measurement devices and robotic arms. Fully automated, lights-out labs, known as "cloud labs," have become more common, which allow academics or startups to send in a sample for testing and run testing remotely 
News of Hyunadai Motor Group’s intent to acquire a controlling interest in Boston Scientific, valuing Boston Scientific at $1.1 Billion, as part of Hyaundai’s “Smart Mobility” strategy offers some of the strongest validation of the maturation of the construction robotics sector yet. 
According to JLL report, modular construction did not benefit significantly from the pandemic, although since it takes place in a factory setting, the process can be engineered to maintain social distancing. The relatively high risk of modular construction projects, however, has prevented wider adoption of the technology, and the industry faces some challenges ahead as the hotel industry, one of the biggest implementers of modular construction, sees projects delayed or canceled in the wake of the pandemic. 
6.c) Smart buildings: IT+OT; IoT, digital twin, big data – analytics & processing, sensors, AI, proptech, etc.
Google’s approach to digital buildings includes infrastructure to allow for any device to work with any application. This builds towards a world much more in line with the explosive potential of the internet, rather than bespoke environments we see in buildings today that are limited in their utility. This approach can be achieved by focusing on a few fundamentals: a) foundational changes to how buildings are designed and constructed; b) creating a technical architecture based on a horizontal layered approach; and c) industry standards and certifications for smart technologies and environments. A layered approach to define a "smart building" architecture based on a principled design creates an ecosystem that allows the overall industry to thrive and innovate, rather than simply providing a "solution" that is stuck in time and quickly obsolete. Much like standard operating systems such as Linux or Windows, the underlying architecture is a collection of components that, when considered as a coherent whole, provides foundation support for a variety of applications and use-cases. The 10 layers include: 1) Device Ecosystem: Collection of digital equipment forming the digital building infrastructure; 2) Edge Compute: Managed compute situated on the edge for performant local capabilities; 3) Device Assurance: Ensures that devices meet with stipulated standards and requirements. As an example, using the open-source Device Automated Qualification (DAQ) framework; 4) Networking: On-prem communication fabric connecting devices and services, using advanced platforms such as the open-source Faucet SDN controller; 5) Device Management: Provisioning and ongoing operation of devices as a secured asset. An example of this is the open-source UDMI device-to-cloud specification; 6) Data Ontology: Structure for how data is semantically connected and linked. Example is the Digital Buildings ontology ; 7) Data Access: Storing data into an organized and accessible repository; 8) Machine Learning: Automated analysis and insights into collected data; 9) Business Intelligence: Low-code ability to create user-facing view into underlying data; and 10) Application: Presentation and organization of data to end-users tailored for a specific task. 
Amazon is building a grocery store of the future. Earlier this year, Amazon opened a 10,400-square-foot Go store, about five times bigger than the largest prior location. Tracking people and products gets more computationally complex and larger SKU counts become more difficult to manage; specifically, the computer vision AI-based system also must be retrofitted into buildings. While Amazon Go is vertically integrated, the second more horizontal strategy includes its cashierless Just Walk Out  technology. In Just Walk Out-enabled stores, shoppers enter the store using a credit card. They don’t need to download an app or create an Amazon account. Using cameras and sensors, the Just Walk Out technology detects which products shoppers take from or return to the shelves and keeps track of them. When done shopping, as in an Amazon Go store, customers can “just walk out” and their credit card will be charged for the items in their virtual cart. Amazon’s third technology, Dash Cart , is a departure from its two prior strategies. Rather than equipping stores with ceiling cameras and shelf sensors, Amazon is building smart carts that use a combination of computer vision and sensor fusion to identify items placed in the cart. 
AI and advanced analytics had the highest share of activity with nearly 80% of companies involved in investment or transaction activity even before 2020.  Some of the use cases have been mentioned in the sections above – almost every example of contech application and/or development includes AI. Additional examples published in December 2020 follow. AI has been employed to spot infrastructure issues. Dynamic Infrastructure  has expanded a pilot project with Suffolk County, New York’s Public Works Department to monitor its bridges and better prioritize maintenance of its infrastructure by identifying changes using its technology, which automatically compares existing and new photos to flag spots for concern.  The drive-thru chains added digital menu boards for confirmation boards to help with accuracy, and they are considering to add AI or one-to-one personalization.  Unilever is broadening emissions ambitions by transitioning to actively monitor its supply chain using AI and geolocation tracking and reducing the number of palm oil mills from which it sources in order to work more closely with fewer suppliers. 
The North American Energy Standards Board (NAESB), a wholesale and retail natural gas and power industry forum comprising 300 corporate members, will initially focus its standards development to support cybersecurity and blockchain out of 11 digital technologies it identified that are quickly transforming the energy space. Blockchain, the committee said, has many potential benefits, including improved cybersecurity, increased transparency and efficiency, and a reduction in the operational and administrative costs of supporting transactional processes.  Builtworlds highlighted Black Ink Technologies, LLC (BIT), a Wyoming “new generation” startup, and an immutable ledger-based technology company with a focus on incorporating technological innovations into the construction industry. Their primary goal is to improve efficiency and limit all stakeholder risk while improving asset quality across the construction and asset ownership/management process. Through true autonomous verification and smart contracts, the company’s product, through independent multiparty GPS anchored verifications, creates a digital twin of real property assets that will be fully tradable. With 259 patent claims filed and having been awarded the first patent for smart contracts and distributed ledger the company is protected to move aggressively in the market. 
VDC has been widely used in the industry with countless success stories. In December Clark Construction reported VDC being crucial and propelling solutions on a $300M mixed-use project. Starting the project with the 3D or 4D models and sharing them with all facets of the construction team ensured all members understood how to find and respond to problems. In the field, it's a change when you have a foreman say ‘Hey can you bring up the model? Once they feel comfortable with it, they’re the ones coming to us. It’s great. Furthermore, by continually modeling the rakers as they were installed, Clark was able to speed up the process of modifications or reinforcements to not compete or interfere with the Purple Line work. Ava Norton, VDC executive for Clark, said without VDC-trained engineers, issues on the project would have been solved much differently and likely not as efficiently, saying the engineers are the “catalyst” for applying new technologies. Because of the extra planning, a complex sky bridge’s installment went as smooth as Clark could have hoped for. It couldn’t have gone better. We couldn’t have done this 10 years ago. 
A recapitulation article highlights collaboration and technology application success of the NEXT Coalition, the Innovator of the Year.  (We reported about the following technologies in the previous reports.) From 84 submitted technologies, the coalition chose 5 technological solutions to pilot, test and tweak in the areas of contact tracing, safety oversight and cleaner jobsites: Smartvid.io , Kwant.ai , GoContractor , Opal  and Versatile’s CraneView . Smartvid.io is an existing construction AI solution that uses imagery to flag safety issues onsite. When the pandemic broke out, Smartvid.io advertised that its AI-enabled product, Vinnie, would recognize when workers were not social distancing or wearing masks. Haskell, which has implemented Smartvid.io on major projects, saw overall social distancing compliance improve from 75% to 78% from June to July, and face mask compliance improve from 82% to 90%. McCarthy found that Kwant.ai, which uses wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to capture data on worker location, fit its needs best. The platform notifies workers of potential threats and helps facilitate worker scheduling. If a worker tests positive for COVID-19, it allows contractors to use geospatial tracing to discover who may have been affected. GoContractor, an online contractor orientation platform designed to facilitate COVID-19 protocols, provides contact-free registrations, standard safety orientations, safer check-in and check-out protocols and central compliance tracking. Opal , an IoT wearable real-time location system (RTLS) solution that addresses safety, security and operational challenges; if a worker becomes infected with COVID-19, Opal uses real-time alerts and reports to identify where the worker was throughout the shift and performs contact tracing. Versatile’s CraneView, which turns cranes into smart devices, uses the multisensor unit measures points of data to include load, weight, motion, rigging, unrigging, material location, tasks and idle times. The data can help insights that optimize crane utilization and production rates. According to a JLL report, pandemic-specific technologies, such as wearables and tracking systems focused on maintaining social distancing or contact tracing, are likely to see adoption decline after the pandemic is over. Others argue that site-screening check-in apps, which launched during the pandemic to act as electronic gatekeepers for potentially infected workers, will still be used after COVID-19. For example, Lafayette, California-based Safe Site Check In, an app that asks workers questions about possible exposure before they come to work, said its customers are also using it to eliminate paper-based processes and to track hours worked.
AECOM working with BCUA and Columbia University on wastewater testing that provide an early signal of infection rates. Testing wastewater for COVID-19 RNA, which can be secreted by infected individuals prior to the display of symptoms, may deliver valuable, early information around trends in infection rates and provide advantages in tracking hot spots and developing proactive mitigation strategies. The resulting anonymous data can equip public health and emergency management officials with a continuous method of community monitoring to inform decisions around social distancing protocols, shelter-in-place orders, targeted testing, reopening strategies and vaccine deployment. 
After reading, writing and arithmetic, the 4th 'r' of literacy is cyber-risk.  Cybersecurity is an inseparable part of any discussion concerning the digital transformation according to the North American Energy Standards Board (NAESB). During its September meeting, committee members agreed that cybersecurity is an overarching umbrella area that is pervasive throughout all other areas but can be refined and evaluated in the context of specific digital technologies. As the committee moves forward with any recommendations for standards development to support specific digital technologies, information concerning related cybersecurity requirements will accompany the recommendations.  The major cybersecurity news in December was breach part of larger campaign by suspected Russian hackers attacking various U.S. governmental agencies and companies via FireEye, a cybersecurity firm.  FireEye, one of the largest cybersecurity companies in the U.S., reported being hacked, likely by a government, and that an arsenal of hacking tools used to test the defenses of its clients had been stolen.  FireEye released a report on the SolarWinds attack dubbed SUNBURST. Through updates to SolarWind’s Orion IT monitoring and management software starting in March, hackers have potentially gained access to thousands of organizations globally; government, consulting, technology, and telecom organizations in North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Experts say it is potentially the largest spying operation against the U.S. in history; and it ran without being noticed for 9 months. The campaign is so broad because the hackers pulled off a textbook "supply-chain attack." Instead of breaking into individual organizations, many of which have robust cybersecurity measures, the hackers breached SolarWinds, company that has an enormous customer base. While SolarWinds has released an update of its software, the hackers' nine-month head start means they are likely to have built additional entry points into the networks they deemed important. Victim organizations will have to choose between two unpleasant options: spending significant resources hunting through their computers in the hope that they can eradicate the hackers' footholds or rebuilding their networks from scratch.  Microsoft was also exposed, but the company isolated and deleted the identified malicious code.   Other cybersecurity breaches include hackers targeting COVID vaccine supply cold chain.  Millions of smart devices vulnerable to hacking. 
Privacy has been discussed since the first contact tracing technologies have been published in May. The discussion continues in December.  Access control, touchless tech, microphones, cameras and smart sensors are all bringing potential privacy and liability concerns. Occupancy/ people counting can be achieved with a) Simple tech: 1) basic occupancy of space – already in use with lighting and HVAC; 2) physical in/out counting – greeters / exit counters using paper, radios, apps; 3) existing data – access control, turnstiles, power; b) Advanced tech: 1) cameras with AI; 2) optical in/out sensors; 3) dedicated IR/Human sensors; 4) software intelligence to either count real time occupancy or provide heat maps; c) Niche tech: Individual BLE or Lora devices to provide contact tracing – primary factories, construction, and shared work areas – some work to use beaconing with cell phones for office. New way of networking for our new normal: 1) deliver power and data to enable hard-to-reach remote devices; 2) fewer cable runs take up less space and utilize smaller pathways and conduit, fewer IDFs; 3) less cable to install than copper-based networks saves Capex; 4) reduce IDFs and ancillary components by reaching further distances; 5) protect network investment with future-ready cable to handle future needs. 
To increase secure and privacy of tenants, building owners use combinations of technologies. For example, at Sydney's Dexus Gateway Building, the integration incuded Boon Edam Speedlane Swing optical turnstiles, IDEMIA’s MorphoWave touchless fingerprint scanners, Schindler’s elevator dispatch and Honeywell’s entry management expertise. Gateway’s entry resolution permits authorized and registered tenants to easily wave their hand within the MorphoWave touchless fingerprint scanner reader to enter the safe space via the turnstiles. Friends can check in and register their finger sample to turn out to be authorized to enter. MorphoWave scans and verifies 4 fingerprints via a hand wave gesture, throughout which the sensor takes a number of 3D images of the fingerprints to extract biometric knowledge and examine with the authorized fingerprints saved within the machine. In the event that they match, the consumer is granted entry; this course of all occurs in lower than one second.  News about China using Huawei’s face recognition software to recognize Uighur minorities and alert police brought up privacy questions.