Construction has been slow to adopt innovative practices. But now humans are being replaced by technology to undertake site inspections.

It’s the integration of hardware and software that is key to finally bringing digital tools to the construction site.

These are the technologies transforming how we undertake site inspections in 2020.

1. LiDAR

LiDAR was first developed in the 1960’s and uses reflected beams of light to map the surrounding environment.

Vast improvements in the technology have come about in recent years thanks to the autonomous vehicle industry. In the past, LiDAR surveys could only be undertaken from aeroplanes and helicopters but the equipment is now much smaller and lighter so it can be mounted onto drones.

Companies like Diodrone specialise in flying LiDAR-mounted drones over vast landscapes. Sending out up to 1 million laser beams per second, it generates 3D models of the world.

One of the main advantages of LiDAR is its ability to pierce through small gaps in foliage to scan the underlying topography. This makes it highly useful for surveys over large areas of shoreline, bushland and infrastructure as the vegetation can be removed from the model to reveal the landscape.

This provides an invaluable tool for the early detection of flood and geotechnical risks.

LiDAR is also increasingly being used on construction sites to create 3D representations of the site. Commonly referred to as Scan-to-BIM, the point cloud data generated by the laser scan can be fed into BIM software to create a highly accurate model of the existing structure.

When used progressively throughout construction, errors can be identified before they become major problems. For example, if a column was built out of place, this could be identified before progressing to the next stage of the build, reducing costly rework.

The technology could prove a critical quality assurance tool to prevent incidents like Opal Tower where thicker-than-designed wall panels contributed to the structural failure.

2. Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is making its way from the Pokemon GO mobile craze to the construction site.

Astalink’s technology allows you to simply hold up a tablet anywhere on site to see the full-scale BIM model overlaid on your structure in real time. This will vastly reduce human error that can occur when coordinating services and interpreting 2D drawings.

Amazingly, it also provides a quality verification system that can detect mismatches between the design and the completed works.

3. Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry is an increasingly powerful reality capture tool that uses photos to generate a 3D model of a structure.

Companies such as High Exposure use drone-mounted, high resolution cameras to inspect the structure remotely.

The photos are then processed to produce a reality model of the structure on your computer. Small cracks or defects can be identified by zooming in on any point of interest. This allows easy close-up inspections of structures that would otherwise require costly access equipment.

Corridor AI is adding machine learning to this process, which trains the computer to identify defects without human input. This could one day completely replace humans for maintenance inspections and change monitoring.

4. Robotics

Pretty soon, you may find yourself walking around site next to a robot. 

Doxel and Holobuilder with Boston Dynamics are using autonomous robots to roam the job site, tracking progress and identifying construction errors.

These artificially intelligent robots use LiDAR to map their surroundings and cleverly recognise objects. 

They can compare progress against the design and pick up construction flaws or omissions which can often go unnoticed by the human eye. These clever machines can process the information and send it straight to the office in minutes.

Not only does this provide a valuable quality assurance tool to avoid construction errors but creates a constant feedback loop for more effective scheduling and resource allocation.