A human-free construction site? Get a peek into Balfour Beatty’s vision of a digital future for the infrastructure industry

by Brianna Crandall — June 30, 2017 — Balfour Beatty, the international infrastructure group, has just published a new paper, Innovation 2050: A Digital Future for the Infrastructure Industry. According to the paper, the construction site of 2050 will be in stark contrast to what we see today — it will be human-free, with work moved off-site, remote control of machinery, and new materials and techniques exploited to improve cost, safety and efficiency.

According to the paper’s description on the Web site:

Robots will work in teams to build complex structures using dynamic new materials. Elements of the build will self-assemble. Drones flying overhead will scan the site constantly, inspecting the work and using the data collected to predict and solve problems before they arise, sending instructions to robotic cranes and diggers and automated builders with no need for human involvement. The role of the human overseer will be to remotely manage multiple projects simultaneously, accessing 3D and 4D visuals and data from the on-site machines, ensuring the build is proceeding to specification. The very few people accessing the site itself will wear robotically enhanced exoskeletons and will use neural-control technology to move and control machinery and other robots on site.

While Balfour Beatty’s prediction for a human-free construction site may seem far-fetched, technology has already revolutionized contemporary life to such an extent that it’s not so hard to imagine radical changes for construction, not least the emergence of new roles and the requirement and evolution of new skills to support delivery of the future pipeline of construction projects.

In its latest paper, Balfour Beatty sets out to examine the pace and rate of change within the industry, with digital technology the catalyst and driver to such change — change that is already happening and is inevitable.

Exploring how business strategies will change, productivity levels will improve, and required skills will evolve, the paper presents how technology will:

  • Help to bridge the skills gap by creating jobs, roles and industries that don’t yet exist, and attract younger generations to the infrastructure industry, ultimately leading to a more agile workforce with new skills
  • Benefit all stakeholders through increased productivity, improved efficiency, and increased value and quality while helping to bridge the skills gap and up-skill the workforce
  • Enable industry professionals to deliver projects for the public more efficiently and effectively through the use of such technology as building information modeling (BIM), augmented and virtual reality, cloud data storage, telematics, drones and data analytics

Leo Quinn, Balfour Beatty Group chief executive, stated:

We are experiencing a digital revolution, redefining how we as an industry operate — becoming faster, better and more agile. By adopting and embracing the rise of digital solutions, we are more able to deliver efficient, effective and safer solutions to our clients and customers.

These changes will mean we have to ensure our industry trains our current and future employees with the skills to exploit the use of new technology, new materials and new methods of working.

Balfour Beatty has made significant progress in its vision to become a truly digitally empowered business, developing our internal capabilities, collaborating across our supply chain and partnering with the best technologically creative minds enabling us to be bold in the adoption of new and emerging technologies.

To read the 13-page paper in full, read a detailed Executive Summary, listen to a quick audio overview, or watch a short film about the paper, or to watch a CGI animation of the site of the future, visit the Innovation 2050 — A Digital Future for the Infrastructure Industry Web page.