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AI is a “game changer” in construction, students learn in innovative class

AI is a “game changer” in construction, students learn in innovative class

July 2, 2024 at 10:08am

The management of a construction site - from scheduling workers, to estimating cost and staying on budget, to ensuring quality and safety and more - is positively primed for an upgrade with artificial intelligence, as students in in the Moss Department of Construction Management within the College of Engineering & Computing are quickly finding out.

“Using what I learned at FIU, I tried out an AI tool at my job that allowed us to generate blueprints based on the specifications we entered. My boss thought it was great,” said Kaelan Dodd, a senior studying construction management.

In just a semester, students learned an array of ways that they could apply AI to help them become more efficient, productive and versatile construction managers.

“The construction industry has changed tremendously,” said Lufan Wang, assistant teaching professor and the instructor of the course. “Advancements in technology have transformed the way that work is done.”

Wang researches AI’s applications to real world problems. She has raced to understand the big-picture ways that AI stands to benefit society, like how artificial intelligence can help manage water, predict wildfires and build smart infrastructure.

“I have a passion to mentor students to use research,” Wang said. “Conducting research is like building muscle. The more students work at it, the better they will be at cultivating curiosity, innovation and self-exploration. These skills are essential for adapting to the rapidly changing AI world.”

When the opportunity came to teach a course on AI in construction, Wang didn’t just teach students to use artificial intelligence. She showed them how to research AI, understand it and even communicate with it in its own language.

Wang taught the entire class to code.

“I was caught off guard at first. But in the end, I was so glad that we learned to code. By knowing how to program, we can speak the same language as AI and give it our feedback to help it improve,” Dodd said.

Today's AI programs offer a variety of problem-solving skills. They can monitor thousands of pictures of a construction site to determine if anything important has moved out of place, analyze thousands of projects to find top trends related to pricing and much more.

Although AI does occasionally give wrong answers, the sheer amount of time saved by using artificial intelligence is well worth the effort it takes to check its work, Ph.D. student Raoul Salas said.

“In construction, we have to follow a lot of building codes, safety requirements and government regulations. These rules can be thousands of pages long, and it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact section we need to reference when we spot something that might be in violation," Salas said.

“But with AI, finding the top rules pertaining to a violation is easy. The time AI can save us from flipping through pages is extraordinary."

AI will probably never replace construction managers completely, Wang said. However, AI probably should replace humans in one specific role: jobs that put human lives in unnecessary danger.

For example, it may be too risky to send a human into an old, deteriorating building. Scenarios like these present the perfect opportunity to send a robot equipped with AI to scope the site first, potentially saving lives. There were more than 1,000 deaths in the construction industry in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Students walked away from the class craving a sequel. They believe that their newfound AI skills combined with their construction and engineering knowledge has put them in a strategic position to succeed.

“Before taking this class, I read a ton of articles about the potential uses of AI in engineering. About what it could do, like, five years from now,” said Salas, who studies pavement management at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“Thanks to this class, I've seen AI in action in real life. I think classes like these are so important. Artificial intelligence is not a future technology in construction management. It is here.”