Old hands and reluctant contractors should welcome the arrival of “intelligent” machinery, even when it comes at premium upfront cost.
Some buzzwords are smarter than others. The current word is “intelligent.” It is a favorite of marketing intelligentsia. It is the last word in authoritative, vogue expression.
So we have Intelligent Compaction, which is a technology that brings consistency and quality control to rolling of asphalt or soil. We have Intelligent Machine Control, which gives blades on earth-moving equipment the ability to bring dirt to grade uniformly and automatically. Intelligent Building Systems integrate all the components of a “living” structure, Intelligent Transportation Systems micromanage traffic and transport equipment issues, and so on.
All of this is built around the concept of artificial intelligence, which is the union of computers and mathematical programs that let machines and systems become startlingly intuitive and problem-solving. AI began to be developed in the 1950s and has reached a point where it beats world-class chess players at their own game, mimics body movements, and creates “intelligent personal assistants” in devices like smartphones.
This is relevant to a construction industry that is struggling to attract sufficient numbers of suitable employees. Millennials and subsequent generations are convinced that the only acceptable work is reading screens and pushing buttons. Bumping around on big-tired construction equipment or floating newly poured concrete holds no allure for them. “Help Wanted” ads from building contractors typically are ignored.
The good news is that intelligent machinery and systems may help construction industry employers meet their employment challenge in two ways. First, the efficiency that comes from computer-assisted decision-making in machines means fewer rolling passes by a compactor, quicker leveling to final grade, and so on. Result: Fewer employees needed to do a job.
Second, computer-assisted, GPS-connected smart machines—coupled with ergonomically-correct work stations and comfortable operator environments—might lure millennials into the industry. Once in the driver's seat, a millennial can experience the satisfaction of building things that previous generations have experienced.
So old hands and reluctant contractors should welcome the arrival of “intelligent” machinery, even when it comes at premium upfront cost. Not welcoming the innovative equipment would be, well, stupid.