The Future of Construction: Google Glass and 3D Printing?

(Excerpted from the Ledgerwood Newsletter, February, 2014. To receive the LAI Newsletter monthly, sign up here.)

For an industry considered a ‘laggard’ in technology adoption, there sure has been some serious buzz about recent developments in technology lately, that may change the entire playing field for construction. Two developments are taking center stage, one literally at a TED talk.

Google Glass Will Disrupt the AEC Industry with Augmented Reality

Google Glass has been on the horizon for it seems like, years now. I have been watching (jealously) a few of the testers’ videos, which led me to wonder if the AEC community is considering the potential for the construction robot-engineer-padsector. Evidently, they are all over it on the internet!

Soon, (if not already), you’ll be hearing about ‘augmented reality’ (AR) on the jobsite. (Simply put, AR is the term for overlaying data on a real-world scene.)

Building Design + Construction served up an article that follows an Australian architect, Rana Abboud, who is an advocate for the potential of AR in the design and construction industries. BD+C asserts, “Abboud says that by superimposing computer-generated images, such as BIM files, over a real-world view of a construction site, AEC firms can greatly improve design visualization, the construction process, and even building maintenance and operations.”

Imagine seeing blueprints, takeoffs or BIM images in the design phase? It’s a selling tool. Even better, it’s a closing tool!

Now think about the Project Manager on the site, and he encounters a change in scope due to weather, and he videos the scene, taps his Google Glass and sends it back to the front for a Change Order approval. Within minutes, he may have the green light to proceed with needed changes!

Visualize the potential for a Safety/Compliance Inspector, a Maintenance Manager, an EPCM!  The potential is ludicrously beneficial for bottom line efficiencies and top line profits, no doubt.

The price point for Google Glass will have to come down to ‘fleet’ pricing however. Debuting at $1,500, the lag time may be in budgeting and not adoption.

3D Printed Housing – the End to Poverty?

At the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs lies the physiological requirement for shelter. In a TED talk, Behrokh Khoshnevis, director of the Manufacturing Engineering Graduate Program at the University of Southern California, said nearly 1 billion people in the world don’t have access to adequate shelter, a situation that breeds poverty, disease, illiteracy, crime and overpopulation.

International Business Times published Khoshnevis’ claim that gigantic 3D printers can print a 2,500 s/f house in as little as 20 hours in their online article. What’s even more unbelievable is that the “robot” printers create hollow walls that sustain 10,000 psi; they can create customized layouts, even doing exterior or interior curved walls, and can “even do the electrical work, plumbing, tiling, finishing work and painting.”

The leader in this innovation is Contour Crafting, whose video Khoshnevis premiered at the TED Talk. De zeen magazine reports that the race is on for teams of architects in London and Amsterdam to build the first habitable 3D printed house. The article quotes Enrico Dini, an Italian robotics engineer and inventor of an extremely large 3D printer, “We might be able to print not only buildings, but entire urban sections.” Here is a PDF that goes into greater detail of Khoshnevis’ work. Here’s a cool little video of Contour Crafting’s  animation of the house printing:  http://youtu.be/M_LLSsNnHn8.

Shut the front doors!

Joanie Hollabaugh