Startups Visit Construction Industry with Creative Destruction


Emily Zhu 6/29/2020



It is said, the only two less digitized sectors than construction today are ‘agriculture and hunting’ in the US, but that is beginning to change. Despite global needs for infrastructure, the progress has been limited. The sector splits broadly in two: large-scale players engaged in heavy construction such as civil and industrial work, and firms engaged in fragmented specialized trades such as mechanical, electrical and plumbing work that act as subcontractors or work on smaller projects like refurnishing housing. With labor costs rising, the scale of projects is increasing, the productivity enhancing technology only becomes more pressing. There are real changes taking place that could have a lasting effect on housing –from construction technology to affordability of the fancy amenities that influence how and where we live.


Among the innovations currently worth taking seriously: Augmented Reality thatmakes it possible to generate 3D models on top of a 2D plan, allowing for more accurate architectural planning; mechanical hands that can trim bricks to various sizes and move them into position; and easy ways to create smart homes with coordinated controls for lighting, motorized shades, and home automation systems.


True to Life Rendering – Augmented Reality


The coronavirus crisis created a sudden demand for technologies for construction industry. Firms not only must respond to immediate safety and health concerns, on top of cost overruns and delays, but also the need for industry-wide reform. Even in the short term, the construction industry has had to adjust to new technology in direct response to the pandemic. For example, various sites around the country are using wearable techsuch as hard hats. The monitors sounds alarms whenever workers are within six feet of another. However, the applications can do more than monitor distance, but also monitor location, motion, temperature and enabling it to warn if a worker might be lightheaded or overheated. The data collection makes it possible to better evaluate assessments of worksites mistakes and prevent repeat occurrences.


Similarly, there has never been a more likely moment for virtual and augmented reality to move beyond showroom demonstrations, not just in the increasingly digital buying and selling process, but also in design and construction. Architecture firms use iPad like a view finder by pointing an iPad toward the hole in the ground and track high-rises from base to neck-crane spire. The rendering is not merely a fancy 3D illustration, but live updates on the materialsused, construction status and dimensions as well as what has or hasn’t been completed on site. It allows a contractor to peer through the virtual façade and determine where plumbing should be installed, whether the electricians has left adequate space forventilation ducts or if columns are correctly aligned. Though the real-worldsavings are hard to estimate, such app will prevent on-site mistakes, avoiding the need for expensive remedies.


Mechanical Hands


In recent years, construction firms have increasingly been confronted with labor shortages, pushing them to look for ways to build faster and cheaper. Much of the new money is being invested in startups that look to automate parts of the construction process and make the industry more similar to less labor-intensive manufacturing businesses like car making. Semi-Automated Manson is a bricklaying robot from New York-based Construction Robotics that handles tasks such as picking up bricks, applying mortar andlaying them. Humans still need to work along with the machine, typing in instructions via a tablet app, loading the machine with bricks and positioning it at the right level. Though, we do not know the rates for robot, but industry expert thinks it shouldsave a company about 50% labor costs.


Technology also changes how workers interact with information that in the past would be locked in stacks of blueprints and files. New testing software is testing that works allow users to see architect drawings as holograms super imposed on the real world. With the technology, users can engage inside a blueprint while interacting with others on the project, allowing construction teams to better understand plans and managers to better evaluate changes. Decision can be made earlier in the process, saving time and avoiding costly changes later.


Smart Home


Today, there are many home-technology products available–capable of performing many different tasks –that most of those functions are accessible through affordable, consumer friendly projects without opening any walls. UZER has developed a barcode scanner that makes recycling more fun. The company is hoping to encourage better habits with Eugene, a smart trash that will tell users what they can recycle and track what they are consuming. Essentially, users can scan your empty food containers that reads the barcodes on your garbage and tell you if you can recycle the container. It might just be worth it. Users can go about your day with the feeling of satisfaction that can only be gained from knowing that you are helping not destroy the very planet we live on.


U-Tron robotic parkingworks like a vending machine on a giant scale,with a computerized brain. Such method has already gained a foothold in construction project. The 9-story condo tower at 567 Ocean Avenue at South of Prospect Park opted for the U-Tron system. It allows developer to add more units to the building and dedicate more room to amenities . This creates a win-win situation that not only benefiting the developer who is getting a much better land use, but also benefiting tenants. The U-Tron system can pack cars four inches apart, with six inches of overhead clearance, resulting in two or three times the density of a normal garage.

Aside from upkeep, there is no human intervention, which means the builder saves on labor, ventilation, and lighting costs. With the use of an app, a driver can summon a parked car and retrieve it from a loading bay in an average of five minutes. That is, when everything goes according to plan. There are failures and dispute arisebetween developer and parking provider whose system sometimes left residents waiting hours for their cars to be retrieved. However, the technology has improved. The system now does a kind of housekeeping, in which it learns the habits of users and can shuffle cars to more convenient spots for removal, to keep drivers from growing impatient in the loading area.


Until recently, there was little pressure on construction and development firms to change the way they work because property values were surging. Builders generally are reluctant to adopt expensive new technologies that appear to offer little in the way of savings. Still, experts say, the benefits of new digital technologies could be significant. A recent report by Boston Consulting Group estimates that within 10 years, full-scale digitization, data-driven planning, surveillance and maintenance, among other innovations, would lead to 13% to 21% cost savings in the design, engineering and construction phases of nonresidential construction, or as much as $21 billion a year globally. Contech is getting more attention from the US investors than any other type of startup right now, so these startups have both the money and attitude to ‘de-construct’ the industry.

Investment banking giant Goldman Sachs is one of the most active investors, betting that the industry is on the verge of sweeping changes. Like said, the demand is huge,and capital has followed it.