Can artificial intelligence benefit the built environment?

04 February 2020

By Lee Wilkinson 

There is a debate roaring and it seems to be present every day. On social media, in publications and in general conversation, the debate about Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) splits people on the positives and negatives. But whatever people’s views are, it’s clear that the implications of AI will have impacts for each and every one of us – both positively and negatively. 

Over my life time there has been great advances in information and communication technology and this has changed how most of us live, work and play. I just need to think back to University. Facebook was just launching, the iPhone a dream of Steve Jobs and a taxi was something you called a central booking number for. Technology has taken the inefficient and non-value adding elements of our lives and made them, well, more efficient. AI is becoming more relevant each and every day.

AI is simply part of computer science that has evolved from the ladies in Hidden Figures programming IBM to enable space travel to the modern day benefits we all see in our latest smart phone. Using a machine to mimic human traits has advanced a lot with AI taking on the persona of a living thing and has grown from an academic discipline to mainstream technology.

AI however will quicken the pace immensely as it finds its way into our everyday lives. It recommends items of interest on the internet and connects us to people “we know” but this is just the tip of the iceberg - the future is certainly more AI and less human workforce and this will have significant impacts for the built environment. Just the basics include:

  • 3D computer-aided design and information modelling is technology of the present yet by adapting and incorporating AI could deliver so many more benefits;
  • BIM (Building Information Modelling), like CAD (Computer Aided Design), is nothing new yet incorporation of AI could allow, say, for unsafe conditions to be highlighted based on previously identified issues; and
  • Surveying a building could occur by pre-programming a device with pattern recognition – allowing for a map of existing facilities to be created. This links in another technology that the sector can (and in some cases is) benefit from - drones which can carry out tasks such as site surveyance, onsite stocktaking and infrastructure maintenance. 

AI is widely driving our internal environment for real estate,  for example with climate control in homes and offices, but also our external environment – driverless cars! The number of parking spaces in a development is key – the right amount can secure maximum value for the site however what if all your tenants use driverless cars, do your decisions change? How do you cater for the younger “gig-economy” individuals who demand state of the art technology? For developers, this creates further considerations and decisions. 

A close examination of something as labour intensive as facilities management can soon derive options for robotic chefs preparing our food, autonomous guided vehicles (“AGV”) cleaning surfaces internally with drones cleaning it externally and automated 3D printing of parts needed for maintenance identified by AI. 

AI has the capabilities to transform the built environment. The PwC economic outlook (https://www.pwc.co.uk/services/economics-policy/insights/uk-economic-outlook/march-2017.html) estimated that up to 40% of construction roles could be automated – this could either help solve the skills crisis in the industry or create losses of jobs. From the design of a building through to its construction and then the subsequent management of the asset. The first step for any business is to accept the future and invest in technology to put their business at the forefront of the future built environment. 

Please contact Lee to hear more about the impact of AI on building an environment/within construction.

Lee Wilkinson

Lee Wilkinson | Leader of Construction & Real Estate in Yorkshire & the North East, PwC United Kingdom
Profile | Email | +44 (0)7725 706 118

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