The Internet of Things – IoT for short – is a technology buzzword that has been applied to pretty much every industry since the interest in the term first spiked in 2013. It’s popularity as a concept has grown alongside general advancements in technology like artificial intelligence. Concerns over privacy, security and safety are mirrored with general awe at what the Internet of Things could do for our world.
What Is the Internet Of Things?
The Internet of Things – IoT – refers to the connectivity between “things” that do not require human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction to transfer data over and across a network. It can include anything from one technical computer to another, or physical objects with an internet connection that can act independently.
Does it sound scary?
Image borrowed from Towards Data Science.
Many things in our daily lives already depend on IoT to work the way we want it to. Security systems, thermostats, speakers, and even alarm clocks all work independently together to function without a human having to tell it to.
Everyday Examples of IoT
A thermostat is a great example of a digital connection between things that can act independently of humans. It monitors your house and turns on or off depending on the temperature of the house, the date or the time of day. You don’t have to go turn it on yourself – it just does it for you.
Security systems are the same – once it’s set up, security systems can trigger alarms, begin recording and even alert emergency personnel all on its own. That data can be stored and transferred automatically within its own system, without the need for a person to click a button.
How is IoT Already Impacting Society?
The concerns behind having technology integrated into all aspects of our lives are valid. But the Internet of Things has already proven to be an incredibly useful tech tool that is making our cities safer, healthier and more enjoyable to live in.
Barcelona has implemented a city-wide Wifi and sensor system that has allowed the city to be smarter in a number of ways. Making the city a Smart City with this technology has resulted in automated street lights, remote-controlled public sprinkler systems, a smarter public water system and controllable traffic lights and reduced traffic jams. The city has even started an ‘on-demand” waste pickup system to help keep the cities clean.
Image borrowed from Zigurat.
A system called the “Array of Things” has been introduced to the city of Chicago. Almost a “fitness tracker” for the entire city, this IoT system collects data including air quality, traffic and general climate of the city and pulls it into an open data portal.
This data will be available for research on the city, to make smarter decisions about city planning and the health of both the city and those living in it.
A construction worker installing an Array of Things Machine in Chicago. Image borrowed from Computation Institute.
One of the sensors installed in Chicago in the Array of Things project. Image borrowed from GCN.
Three Major Ways IoT is Making a Difference
The collection of data in a systematic and comprehensive way can make the world a better place. We’ve already seen how the Internet of Things can do this in three ways: for clean air, better agricultural practises, and more efficient health care.
The addition of air sensors in highly polluted cities around the world has led to the creation of an automatic warning system that tells residents to stay home when the air quality is too bad. Oakland, California is working with Google to develop a block-by-block pollution map that will empower local governments and policymakers to make smarter decisions about laws and regulations that can be backed by data and facts.
Tracking microclimates, monitoring temperature and humidity and making data-backed decisions is helping farmers reduce water and fertilizer use as well as cutting back waste and improving the quality of food. These practices are also being used in food storage facilities to reduce the amount of food waste created in the storage and shipping process.
Image borrowed from Far Eastern Agriculture.
Healthcare is still a bit of a touchy subject as the transferring, collection, and use of personal data related to one’s health is still being debated. Privacy aside, doctors, scientists and engineers are astounded at the amount of information that can be taken from wearable technologies. The lifesaving advancements for the healthcare industry are astounding when so much data is collected and available about a person’s individual health.
Image borrowed from DZone.
The Internet of Things in Construction
It’s clear that the technical connection between objects without a human requirement can make our cities smarter, our people healthier, and our world – ideally – a safer place to live.
The power of IoT to bring efficiency and safety to a whole new level does carry over into the construction industry as well. In an article from Point to Point, the Internet of Things is called “the next industrial revolution”.
Safety, efficiency, waste reduction, budget and equipment lifecycle are all expected to be improved through a deeper connection between construction and IoT.
Image Borrowed from ScienceSoft.
The Practical Application of IoT in Construction
A greater connection between equipment data and site information will change the construction industry for good. Remote operation, employee safety, equipment care, precise budgeting, long-term planning and improved waste management are some key ways that the Internet of Things will change construction.
How Does It Fit in Construction Now?
The Internet of Things can be found in construction right now. Modern fleet management systems, equipment GPS, and even drones and remote security systems for construction sites all include the transportation of data automatically and without the sayso of a human being.
It’s not a new concept to the industry. The future focus in the industry is shifting to start using it more effectively in order to truly maximize safety and efficiency.
Collecting and Analyzing Data
Building a deeper connection between all the different data available for a single construction site or project would help to bring more efficiency and safety to the industry. While it’s great to collect data, there’s only so much you can do with it unless you piece it all together and can break it down into information that can then be applied to future projects.
Equipment data is an ideal example of how this could work.
Image borrowed from BIM Today.
Let’s say that “Contractor ABC” uses an excavator on a project. Throughout that project they use a fleet management system to monitor the excavator – fuel levels, location, work hours, projects, who’s driving it, etc. During that project the information is used to alert for refuel needs, oil changes, completed circle checks, etc.
In a case when this data and the Internet of Things is being used to its fullest potential, this information could be saved and referenced when planning for the next job. How the equipment performed, the best operators, if it broke down a lot, and how much fuel it consumed can be used to budget and timeline the project.
If this information is collected for every piece of equipment and project before being organized in a way that is accessible, the planning and budgeting process of the next project can be done with a level of efficiency and accuracy not possible in the past.
The Possibilities of IoT in Construction are Endless
Equipment is just one example in the thousands of ways IoT can be applied to construction.
Site security and modelling are being used to create Virtual Reality safety training spaces that mirror actual sites and actual situations. Building Index Modeling (BIM) – a program that digitally creates a project to help within the planning process – is now being applied after the project is over to monitor future wear and tear of a building.
Wearable technology like the SmartCap can measure how awake and alert the wearer is. Not only does this make workers safer at the time of data collection but it can provide insight into the most effective times of day on-site and which workers doing what jobs experience lower levels of alertness and concentration.
Image borrowed from Hello Future.
No matter what the data is, the ability to collect and compare precise data and statuses throughout the lifecycle of a project will reduce material waste and equipment breakdowns, make projects safer and budgeting and planning easier.
The opportunities are endless.
The Future of Construction in a Connected World
The Internet of Things is complex. It can be hard to wrap your mind around – the idea of everything around us sharing data without needing to be told to. Objects naturally measure our health, our surroundings, our environment, and the health, surroundings and environment around the objects themselves. It’s something out of a science fiction movie.
But it’s not fiction. It’s the reality of how our cities are being structured and how they will be built in the future.
Embracing the Internet of Things In Construction
The best way for contractors around the world to embrace the Internet of Things is to learn and apply whatever technology fits their company right now. The ability to understand, to work with technology and to implement tech into the construction process will make projects safer and more efficient.
Beyond this, it will help to set companies apart from the competition for bids. In fact, it is predicted that being able to work with new IoT-type technology could be a deciding factor when it comes to the bidding system in the future.
Image borrowed from GineersNow.
Embracing the Internet of Things will take time. For an industry that is already changing and advancing so quickly, it’s clear that the future of construction will look very different from what we’re used to today. Construction and technology will become so intertwined that one will not exist without the other.