Bots: How They Will Impact the Construction Industry
Bots are a rapidly growing tech trend in both consumer and commercial industries. They have the potential to greatly improve productivity by automating repetitive work, particularly for process and management responsibilities. Eliminating this menial manual work has the potential to help general contractors find better margins by increasing their time spent on revenue-generating tasks.
What are Bots?
Bots are software services intended to automate simple tasks that require processing information. They have become particularly popular as integrations into messaging apps. Because of the relative ease and robustness of text-based interaction, messaging platforms have become the common choice of interface. In this capacity, Bots are best thought of as intelligent assistants.
What makes Bots useful?
Bots aren’t exactly a new technology. Simple chat bots have held basic conversations with humans for many years. What has changed has been the amount of connectivity between services and devices and the recent progress of artificial intelligence. With the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), real-time data streaming is becoming more readily available. If there is some event observed by sensors on a jobsite, like decibels exceeding city ordinances, or light levels too low, those connected sensors can push an alert to a Bot. Later, rather than searching through hard drives of files, an owner or project manager could just ask that Bot to “find me the alerts” for some day in the past. If a site safety officer notices a safety hazard, they can conversationally tell a Bot about the incident, and the Bot can fill out the appropriate incident report, not wasting any time on questions or fields not relevant to the particular type of report. A construction site foreman can query for the status of machinery and equipment to verify everything is up and running.
With Machine Learning (ML), bots can process all this data to provide descriptive and prescriptive analytics about the progress of a project as well as help with project estimates during the planning stages. The more data they consume, the better the quality of the analytics they provide. With Natural Language Processing (NLP), bots are becoming better at understanding human language. The promise of this progress lies in reducing complexity in terms of interfaces. Rather than having to memorize specific commands or where a button is located in a jungle of menus, one would simply tell the bot, “Show me yesterday’s report on the Big Company office building,” and it would reply back with the completion progress, significant events, etc. This also has potential in aiding the training process when adopting software tools into workflows. Hands-on training and webinars can do a lot to get a team up to speed creating BIM models in Revit or importing subcontractors into a construction bid management system like SmartBid, but there’s not always a human on hand to help ask the user for clarifications to what they are asking or trying to understand, and provide the appropriate assistance.
How good are Bots now?
Bots are still in their infancy, but are quickly improving. Facebook, among other companies, has been working on an intelligent assistant. Facebook’s assistant is called M, and it is driven by NLP and ML. As a user is conversing with other users over Messenger, M will make suggestions of how to respond. Overtime, it learns your habits to become more personalized. However, M still has trouble on a significant portion of interactions and must fail over to a human team to continue. NLP is still one of the more difficult problems in AI, but you can expect machine understanding to continue to improve and bots to become more sophisticated and powerful as M learns more and more about the intricacies of human language.
If a builder is looking for integrating a bot service into your workflow, there are companies already getting into the game. SafeTrack is one such company that offers a bot solution for the construction industry. Their Bot integrates with project management software to allow general contractors to conversationally file reports and update tasks through texting a chat bot, rather than needing a laptop or tablet to fill out a digital form. In an industry like construction where technology adoption is slow, bots certainly won’t be taking over in a night, but there’s much to be gained in the name of efficiency.
About the Author
Byron Hager is a JBKnowledge Research & Development Team Software Developer (JBKLabs), which is dedicated to disrupting and accelerating the architecture, engineering, and construction industries by building solutions with emerging technology. Byron is a developer by day and philosopher by night who recently graduated from Texas A&M University with a BS in Computer Science. JBKLabs is available for advisory, research, and custom software development services. Learn more at jbknowledge.com/labs.