Within five to 10 years, a majority of construction workers will be interacting with real-time data on projects and deploying wearable, pervasive computing devices on jobsites, according to a survey of ENR readers.
But readers are split on how much of a difference in productivity will result from all that real-time data and gadgetry.
The survey went out to about 54,000 subscribers of ENR's FutureTech newsletter in early March and garnered 317 replies, three-quarters of which completed all the questions. (The results were unveiled on March 18, during the FutureTech event in San Francisco, and shared with ENR readers soon after.)
As ENR usually does, the survey first asked readers to identify their role in construction. The majority of replies, 31% (or 100 survey respondents) identified themselves as contractors, while 8.7% (28) were specialty contractors. Twenty-six percent (84) of the replies came from the consulting engineer-designer-architect category, and 13.9% (45) were owners. The balance (20%) were vendors, educators and manufacturers.
Closer Than We Think?
More than 260 readers weighed in on a question that asked which technologies would be in wide use in construction and how soon? As the graphic below explains, 73.3% expect real-time performance tracking to be in common use within five years, followed by 18% who expect to see it adopted widely within a decade.
About 46% identified wearable computing and pervasive computing systems as just around the corner, while some 33% say it will be closer to 10 years before their use is widespread. Some 20% of the 260 replies voted for autonomous machinery and robotics as the next widespread tool on jobsites in five years.
When asked how much data interaction and technology use will influence productivity, 50% (130) of survey respondents said it would enhance productivity only slightly; however, 33% (87) said the changes would enhance productivity greatly. The rest chose "inhibit greatly," "inhibit slightly" or "no effect."
ENR also asked readers to send in their thoughts about other trends and technologies they expect will influence the future of the construction worker. Here is a sampling of what readers wrote:
• "Prefabrication and modularization. Keeping in mind the education and literacy rates of the overall construction workforce—if the technology is not multilingual and is beyond an eighth-grade level, it'll be useless."
• "Robotic delivery and assembly on-site, wireless technology, battery systems, eliminating a lot of hardwiring in buildings, including electrical computer-controlled construction at the tool level."
• "Loss of craftsmanship and the emergence of modular construction and 'kit of parts' buildings."
• "3D printing, human robotics, design-build construction, tablets, LEED Green and 3D modeling."
• "The lack of alternative schools for non-college students for important basic vocational trade skills in areas outside the Northeast, Atlantic and Midwest [states] will continue to hamper major construction projects."
• "Too much information [and] not enough knowledge."
Full details of the survey can be viewed in this slideshow.