Atkins partners with AI start-up for major projects

Atkins has partnered with AI start-up nPlan to identify and assess new contracting methods that focus on collaboration and risk for major infrastructure projects.

With funding from Innovate UK, the partnership will combine Atkin’s project delivery experience with nPlan’s machine learning technology. The findings will be shared with industry in autumn 2021.

nPlan’s technology uses multiple techniques to learn how projects perform. At a high level, the algorithm learns by comparing the individual activities in a baseline schedule to activities in an actualised schedule. This process is repeated hundreds of millions of times, building up a knowledge base of project performance that will allow for “impartial and collective forecasting, increased transparency between project partners and a shared, improved view of project risk”.

Atkins and nPlan will work alongside the likes of Heathrow Airport to analyse the current contracting models before developing and piloting data and technology-driven alternatives over the next 12 months. 

The research will also identify how technology can support initiatives, such as the Institution of Civil Engineers’ Project 13 and proposed reinventions of New Engineering Contracts. 

Richard Robinson, Atkins UK & Europe CEO, said: “The industry has historically been slow to adopt new technology, in part due to the risk and rewards mechanisms of its contracting models. 

“As such, there needs to be a step-change if we’re going to unlock and encourage innovation which can serve to increase the predictability of project performance and deliver whole-life value to ensure better returns on investment for our clients.” 

Dev Amratia, CEO at nPlan, said: “Atkins and the wider SNC-Lavalin group were one of our earliest backers and we’ve worked together for almost two years now.

“We’re excited to partner with an immensely talented team to investigate how powerful machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms can be applied to help solve some of the industry’s long-standing problems."

Jon Kerbey, digital director at Heathrow, said: “Accelerating and broadening the learning and feedback process on project performance through the use of AI has the potential to transform the way in which we procure, plan and deliver projects. We are delighted to be working with Atkins and nPlan on this innovative initiative."

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