Adding computational power to construction sites

IBM’s Watson supercomputer has beat Jeopardy champions, reconstituted recipes, and even helped create highlight reels for the World Cup. Now it’s taking on a new tech challenge; changing how the construction industry operates.

A new partnership between IBM and Fluor, a global engineering and construction company, will put the supercomputer’s computational skills to work on making building more efficient.

The new Watson-based system, in development since 2015 and now in use on select projects, will be able to analyze a job site “like a doctor diagnoses a patient,” according to Leslie Lindgren, Fluor’s vice president of Information Management. That degree of risk analysis, predictive logistics, and comprehension is no small challenge given the complexity of today’s construction megaprojects.

“These are multibillion dollar project sites, that are like walking into a city,” says Lindgren. “The sheer volume of data is tremendous.”

On especially complicated projects, Fluor will begin using two new tools, the EPC Project Health Diagnostics and the Market Dynamics/Spend Analytics, to make sense of the thousands of data points found on a crowded construction site. Constant analysis will help forecast issues before they show up, and automate how materials and workers are distributed. Eventually, the system will develop natural language functionality.

“Think of it as a living and breathing system,” says Sai Yadati, a partner for IBM Global Business Services. “This is truly one-of-a-kind for the marketplace.”

It’s a bold bet that reflects the ways in which the $10 trillion global construction industrycontinues to play catch-up with technology. That gap has created an opportunity for startups and technology firms to make a huge difference in an industry beset by increasing costs and labor shortages.

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February 28, 2019

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