Industry experts talk AI: Oliver Hughes on the potential of Artificial Intelligence in construction

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Some weeks ago we hosted on our blog Colin Smith, Chairman at Cyclr Systems and had a very interesting chat with him on the advent of Artificial Intelligence in construction.

This month we meet Oliver Hughes, co-Founder and Director of Digital Construction Week (17-18 October in London). He shares with us his thoughts on the future of Artificial Intelligence in construction and analyses why it’s an area with great potential for the entire sector.

What is your favorite book?

Well, I’m reading at the moment a book called, ‘The Trees’ by Ali Shaw. It’s the idea that nature and trees would take over the world again. No robots this time, we are going back to nature. It’s described as the woods meet the birds, I think. Kind of Hitchcock Tarantino-esque book, quite interesting.

What is your favorite film?

That’s a tough one. You’d have to say something like, ‘Star Wars: New Hope’ for me. A bit of original, Jaws or Jurassic Park, some of those classics growing up.

Where and how do you work best?

I kind of like to be around people. We worked ourselves Luke and I, and the guys that run Digital Construction Week. And being on your own we sort of spend a lot of time either in the kitchen table or in the garden putting things together. I quite like being in a space where there’s a bit of buzz and a bit of noise around me. So a lot of coffee shop working.

Should construction care about Ai?

Yeah, without a shadow of a doubt. I think there’s a big challenge of how we get to having it usable and really understanding it. But the potential for things like inspection and maintenance is huge there. Predictive analytics around project delivery all sorts of things. It’s just a big step for a lot of people.

Read also: Benjamin Dyer on the new age of AI in construction

I think once we get our head around data and information, we can really move to that and I think you’ll have huge, huge value. Much more even so when you get into the kind of small cities agenda and what that means. This is a big challenge but certainly one we should be looking at.

Is the industry ready to fully leverage AI?

Not quite. I wouldn’t say. I think there’s a lot of really intelligent, smart, innovative people in the industry that are trying to get their heads around it but it’s a very complex siloed business. And getting from the bottom of the supply chain to the top board and the kind of tier one contractors engage in that is a big ask, and there’s a lot of small steps to get to, to really make the most of it.
potential of AI in construction
I think it’s not far off for some of the bigger companies. There’s like some real innovative firms like Skanska or Laing O’Rourke who are really leading the way. Mace, BAM, and Aecom, you can include in that. But the industry as a whole, really getting to grips with it is a bit of a challenge I think.

Are there areas more susceptible to AI now? Low hanging fruits?

Yeah, I think so. I think there’s potential around site issues. So things like snagging or delivery on time could be a piece. Health and well being, I think there’s a good opportunity. There’s a massive issue that needs fixing in construction which is our health and safety record. I think there are some ways it could be applied there. I think inspection and maintenance monitoring could also be a really interesting one.

In 5-10 years what could AI do for AEC?

The really interesting thing which I think it has come to a greater maturity in the last year or two is the smart cities agenda. The real exciting thing for me for built environment is what is seen as this traditional industry. Whenever you talk about things like autonomous vehicles or I.O.T. or any of these kind of bigger ideas, you need the infrastructure to run them and it’s the built environment that are designing it, building it, engineering and managing it.

I think when you get into smart cities the potential for cars that arrive at your door when you need them for traffic signals, that are never red when you want to go through them. For things around weather and how that might impact your journey or the way, you interact with the city, for planning of the kind of social economic side of things around health care and hospitals and schools and that side.

potential of AI in construction
I think there is a massive, massive potential to AI for our everyday lives. And that’s quite sci-fi, that’s really yeah you know, you see a real Elon Musk kind of conversation. With this built environment they’re going to have to figure out how to build those buildings, how to manage them, how to maintain and that’s the really exciting thing for me. I think when you get that right in 10, 20 however many years’ time it is. Then there’s some really exciting potential.

Find here: Rob Charlton on AI in construction

What’s the best advice you ever received?

That’s a tough one. Best advice? I suppose it’s focusing on what you do, rather than what no one else does. So we had a big change where we became our own business you know self-employed and all the rest. I think it’s very easy to get bogged down with what your competitors are doing or what else is going on. When you look at sporting analogies, winners focus on their own performance than on those of others. And I think for your own kind of mental sanity, that’s pretty where you need to be. So yeah, I try to live by that I guess.

What’s next for you?

I think for DCW we’re super focused on this year’s event. We want to take a bit of a step back from some of the new trends, in terms of technology innovation and start to unpackage them a bit and really help industry understand what they mean. AI is a prime example of that. We also launched our awards this year, with a view to celebrating, showcasing, rewarding best practice but in terms of I suppose the processes or the changes that we need to make as an industry.

digital construction week 2018
Innovation and R&D. How do you build a business case? What does best practice look like? How do you measure that success? Things like a culture of collaboration and change management is one of the biggest challenges. So how can we reward people doing that really well and help other people learn from it. There will also be some news coming around that this year.

Oliver was interviewed by Gari Nickson. Gari is an expert in the application of artificial intelligence in construction. He’s an entrepreneur, co-founder of GenieBelt, and adviser to Contractor Freedom. Follow Gari on Twitter – @garinickson