Chances are good that robotics, drone imagery and digitized collaboration will play a large part in design and construction of future homes and business structures, and a variety of other construction improvements may not be far behind.
Already, there is some evidence that buildings of the future may be constructed of "self-healing materials" and that plant-based components will create new design and energy flexibility. Tomorrow's built environment may not resemble today's buildings any more than the great stone structures of the past have anything in common with today's steel and glass high-rises.
What is evident is that new construction techniques and building efficiencies are constantly being introduced. In many cases, these new technologies go much farther beyond smart homes and energy-efficient home improvements. The future has already arrived, at least in the minds of some who will determine what course construction will take. Here's a view through the looking glass.
Robotics Can Alleviate Danger to Humans
Even though it is not likely that the need for human labor and problem-solving ability will ever disappear completely from the construction industries, there is every reason to believe that many of the more repetitive tasks can be performed by mechanized non-human helpers, according to industry soothsayers. Dangerous jobs in the future may also be routinely performed by robots, or mechanized in other ways to help to reduce the risk of construction-related injuries.
A brick-laying robot named SAM, introduced by Construction Robotics, is designed to work in tandem with a human mason to ease the heavy-lifting and to speed up the job. Associated technology is expected to allow for greater flexibility and precision in architectural design, as well as increasing productivity and boosting safety.
Drones Give a Bird's Eye View
Overhead drones are well-suited to explore areas unavailable to human eyes, offering new possibilities for site analysis, project-mapping and obtaining accurate measurements through both two and three-dimensional imagery. With virtually unlimited potential for architects and engineers, small drones may also provide builders and renovators the tools they need to explore damaged interiors or determine needs on dangerous terrain and in unstable environments.
Drone photography has already helped to transform the real estate industry. It will not be long before the possibilities for drone technology are tapped across the whole spectrum of the construction trades.
In a similar way, the development of cameras to troubleshoot breaks in water and sewer lines in the street or under a foundation saves countless hours and dollars in detection and repairs. Perhaps the time is not far distant when similar techniques can be used to explore hidden areas behind walls, under roofs, in building ductwork, or in the bowels of large commercial structures.
Envision a future where the most important tool on the construction site of a Siesta Key home is a 3-D printer. There are reasons to believe that, at least in the case of some parts, connectors and fittings, a trip to the hardware store or building supply yard may no longer be necessary. Plumbing manufacturers have the ability to fabricate fully functional faucets. It is no longer a stretch of imagination or a leap of faith to believe that advancing technology won't emerge to solve the ongoing need for having the right materials available in the right quantities at all the right times. At some point in the future, the possibility of printing an entire structure may also become a reality. The technology points that way, and some experimentation is already underway.
Self-healing concrete that employs a bacteria to seal its own cracks, plant-based fabric with remarkable tensile strength, insulation born of a unique type of milkweed, hemp-based bricks, a type of composite building material derived from fungus—these are all reality. But they are only a few examples of what may be in store. The future of building materials that are strong, durable and cost-effective may actually involve taking a much closer look at what already exists in nature. Combine these innovative products with a new trend toward modular and factory-built components and the future of the building environment will be forever changed, both in the United States and globally.
The Price of Innovation
Cheaper, faster, better, easier has been a construction mantra for generations, with efforts devoted toward producing homes and commercial buildings to meet existing demand at the lowest-possible cost. The development of lighter, stronger, more efficient building materials may have evolved from a desire to save natural resources, or it may be a reaction to increasing costs and growing demand.
Either way, the current need for new direction, new technology and new materials isn't always more economical. But, in many quarters, the price of quality and innovation seems well worth it. It is evident that the coming decades signal a new direction for the construction industry. It may be disruptive in the short term, but it is bound to be fascinating.