UK seeks to lead in AI-based construction

The British government is seeking to transform its construction industry with 'digital techniques'.
6 February 2019

Aerial view of construction site workers. Source: Shutterstock

An £18 million (US$23 million) fund from the British government seeks to drive the adoption of AI (artificial intelligence) and digital technology in the UK’s construction industry.

The investment comes courtesy of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, supporting research, development and innovation projects to support a more efficient, highly-skilled and productive construction industry.

Funding forms part of a wider £170 million ($US 220 million) UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) pot— matched by £250 million ($US 324 million) from industry— to embed new approaches and techniques with the aim of enabling the UK to become a “world leader” in the sector.

A total of £13.3 million ($US 17 million) has been awarded to 24 projects, all which focus on developing digitally-enabled solutions to support building design and management, adopting offsite manufacturing approaches that improve building quality and creating active power generation and storage within them.

Construction firm Kier’s partnership with the University of Cambridge and nPlan— will use data from past building projects to predict, plan and schedule construction outcomes with machine learning techniques. A consortium with housing developers Barratt Developments and L&Q, meanwhile, will explore the use of off-site manufacturing as an alternative to traditional methods, such as 3D-printing certain components.

Construction minister Richard Harrington, said, “The use of artificial intelligence, digital techniques, and off-site manufacturing help us harness new methods of working and delivers on the government’s construction sector deal.

“These new methods to help the construction industry are a testament to the government’s modern Industrial Strategy’s aims of building a better tomorrow for us all through scientific and technological advances.”

A further £5m is being invested to support research leaders to build teams and take on a research programme within the transforming construction challenge.

Four research projects will share funding, ranging from exploring digitally-designed, 3D-printed concrete components, to assessing the use of robots for both on and off-site construction. Another project will look at integrating voice-activated AI and augmented reality in the assembly of components to speed up construction and increase productivity.

Technologies being developed in the UK provide a significant opportunity to transform the way we build, such as the use of augmented reality to improve design or robotics to aid complex building assembly,” said Professor Sir Mark Walport, UKRI Chief Executive.

“Through projects such as these, the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund allows us to catalyze innovation across the UK’s construction industry, improving productivity, sustainability, and safety.”