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Balfour Beatty outlines what construction will look like in 2050

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Exoskeletons and tiling robots are just some of the technology Balfour Beatty is developing as its looks forward to construction in 2050.

At the launch of a new report his week, Innovation 2050: A Digital Future for the Infrastructure Industry, the contractor said it had already begun working with exoskeletons in Hong Kong through its subsidiary Gammon Construction and had also developed robots to take over the jobs of some trades, making the work faster and more efficient.

Tom Loader, head of digital at Balfour Beatty, said: “We are already doing work with exoskeletons in Hong Kong and have used three different versions of an exoskeleton.

“We have also developed a tiling robot that is eight times faster than a human. This is just the beginning of where technology and robots can go.”

The company said it also expects drones to hover over construction sites collecting information and sending instructions to robotic cranes, diggers and automated robotic builders.

Humans no longer needed on site will occupy overseer roles, remotely managing multiple projects and accessing 3D and 4D visuals and data from the onsite machines, ensuring construction is proceeding to specification.

For humans that are working on site, they will be find themselves robotically enhanced and will be wearing exoskeletons rather than hard hat and other safety gear, hi-vis clothing and boots, and will use neural-control technology to move and control machinery and other robots onsite.

Leo Quinn, chief executive at Balfour Beatty, said: “We are experiencing a digital revolution, redefining how we as an industry operate; becoming faster, better and more agile. By adopting and embracing the rise of digital solutions we are more able to deliver efficient, effective and safer solutions to our clients and customers.”

Quinn added that he expected the changing face of technology would also change the issue of the skills gap in construction.

“The nature of the skills challenge has changed and will change further due to technology. Some jobs will disappear and others will be created. By 2020 I think we’ll see a change from frontline jobs on construction sites to backline, new jobs and industries.”

Questioned by BIM+ about what technology he was most excited about, Quinn said he was enthusiastic about the benefits of 3D and 4D models and what they could be used for in planning on a project.

“The real benefit I see is visualisation on projects. Using 3D/4D as well as collaborative working you’ll be able to see the problem before the event,” he said. “Out of 10 problems you might have on a project, you’ll be able to detect and solve eight of them in the virtual world.” 

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We are already doing work with exoskeletons in Hong Kong. We have also developed a tiling robot that is eight times faster than a human. This is just the beginning of where technology and robots can go.– Tom Loader, Balfour Beatty