The Current State of Technology
Right now, the most common autonomous technology the construction industry has experienced is a higher rate of drone use. It's not always easy to keep track of how a project is going, but drones give people real-time updates without having to constantly visit the site. They can scout locations quickly, or reveal inefficiencies in the way a project is being completed. Clients are happier because there's more visibility into the project, and owners are calmer because they know that updates are readily available should they need them. Drones are also used to give professionals working on the site a better idea of how their approach is working. It gives foremen the big picture and reveals inefficiencies in the actual logistics of the construction. Drones can even deliver information to machinery to create new designs and ideas without any human intervention at all.
In addition to drones, machine learning and remote controls are currently being tested to determine how they can be used on site. Contractors are already using autonomous technology in bulldozers, backhoes, and other equipment. Machine learning is designed to improve processes based on feedback, taking autonomous equipment one step further. This has actually created a new class of jobs, as sites will need operators who know how to use the controls to get the work done.
There are plenty of things that autonomy can do for the construction industry. Production should increase dramatically. There's currently a labor shortage for qualified operators, and these machines ensure jobs get done on time, every time. They're also a lot less expensive than traditional construction techniques. They require fewer people (so fewer salaries), and less fuel to operate the vehicles. These machines gather data and change their patterns to accommodate the exact needs of the job site. Autonomous equipment is engineered to be environmentally responsible, which can help the construction industry meet new regulations set by the government. And most importantly, workers are actually less likely to have an accident because the new equipment is more reliable and can account for inconsistencies during a project.
The biggest fear people are likely to have about autonomy is that it's eventually going to take their job. Contractors and operators may already be noticing just how much a machine can do, and worry that their skills soon will be obsolete. Those who embrace technology clearly don't want to put people out of work, but they also don't want to be left behind. It can make things confusing as everyone anxiously tries to figure out what comes next. In the short-term, it can make for employees who are afraid of losing their livelihoods or who aren't loyal to the company. In the long-term, it's possible that machine learning will heavily discount the creative impact of human minds on a project. It could potentially lead to less innovation in the construction industry, and more uniformity amongst buildings.
Like it or not, autonomous technology in the construction industry is here to stay. And it will only become more widespread in the future. There are some real advantages to having it in the construction industry, as people find ways to cut costs, increase efficiency, quality, and safety, and decrease the number of repetitive tasks an operator has to perform. Still, real fears exist in the eyes of many as the technology is increasingly adopted. Multiple studies are currently being conducted to address the various potential endgame scenarios. However autonomous technology unfolds in the future, we absolutely must be prepared to use it to our advantage.