The first week of 2015 is already underway, and that means it is time for a bit of reflection on the past year. Like so many years before, 2014 brought some great advances in technology for the architecture, engineering, and construction industry.
From new survey methodologies to building techniques, 2014 has shown many noteworthy milestones. Here are some of the best trends and new technology in the construction industry that have made news in 2014.
Reality Capture Technologies. AEC may stand for architecture, engineering, and construction, but before any of that can happen, there has to be a survey. So it’s no wonder that 2014 brought some interesting advances to this very fundamental industry.
1. Pegasus Two. We all know that the survey is fundamental. Nonetheless, the survey phase can still take longer than we would like. Even with high-definition surveying techniques and equipment, large-scale projects can consume valuable project time. Wouldn’t it be amazing if surveys could happen faster? Since the introduction of Leica Geosystem’s Pegasus: Two vehicle-mounted HDS scanning system, your wish is its command. The Pegasus Two is capable of performing 360-degree corridor surveys at more than 50 miles per hour.
Leica Pegasus:Two. Courtesy Leica Geosystems.
2. Drone Surveying. It seems that 2014 was the year of “drone technology”—small, remotely operated multiple-rotor aircraft. From law enforcement to commerce, there’s no end to what these versatile devices can accomplish. Now drones have come to the AEC industry, and they are promising a revolution in surveying of our world. Armed with high-resolution digital cameras and advanced software, these little aircraft are set to take surveying to new heights.
Building Technologies. The act of building is a basic component of human activity. For centuries, humans have created structures, beginning with the simplest of huts to the most modern of skyscrapers. All along the way, construction technologies and practices advanced, and 2014 was no different.
3. 3D Concrete Printing. Since the Egyptians experimented with lime and gypsum mortar as a binding for stone, concrete has been a building material of choice for some of the greatest construction projects in the world. Now 3D-printing technology is being integrated to produce complex building forms. This union has the potential to reduce the time required to produce such components by several orders of magnitude—from weeks to mere hours.
4. Smart Highways. In 2014, the first stretches of the Smart Highway project opened in the Netherlands. The traffic markings are made of a special new luminescent paint, And it’s not just for cars, either: There’s also a bicycle path with glow-in-the-dark stones inspired by Vincent van Gogh. Future goals of the project include road paint that can react to temperature and in turn provide weather warnings to drivers.
Smart Highway. Courtesy Studio Roosegaarde.
Environmental Technologies. Environmental awareness is no longer the sole concern of fringe groups. In 2014, environmental concerns are at the forefront and, often, in the requirements of more and more AEC projects. Fortunately, there is also a growing number of brilliant advances in the AEC world.
5. Kinetic Roads. In a world that is increasingly more ecologically aware, many organizations have sought ways to create sustainable, ecologically friendly power. Now one Italian company, Underground Power, has developed a way to capture the dissipated kinetic energy of braking automobiles to generate electric current. These devices have the potential to produce, in a single year, an amount of power equivalent to that of 19 tons of oil!
6. Solar Roads. Kinetic sciences are not the only avenue being explored to transform roads from inactive thoroughfares into energy-creating entities. Since 2009, Scott and Julie Brusaw have been developing a system of structurally engineered solar tiles for road use. These solar tiles are not only capable of producing electricity from sunlight, but they can also handle loads up to 125 tons. This technology could eventually transform America’s 31,250.86 square miles of roads, parking lots, driveways, playgrounds, bike paths, and sidewalks into the world’s largest power network.
7. Tiny House Movement. Since 1997 when Sarah Susanka began the “tiny house” movement, more and more people around the world have seen the merit of smaller home footprints. These sub-1,000-square-foot homes incorporate all manner of space-saving architectural features to maximize every square foot. In 2014, this once obscure movement moved to the main stage when the New Jersey state Senate began considering tiny houses to assist poor and homeless residents.
BIM Everywhere. While Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a relatively new concept in the worlds of architecture, engineering, and construction, it is fast growing. Helping to spur that growth is a wide array of technologies involving some very inventive software and hardware.
8. Visualization/virtualization. In 2014, the number of turnkey solutions incorporating devices like the Oculus Rift exploded. Available at a wide range of prices, these systems are bringing the advanced technology of immersive “virtual reality” to the hands of nearly any AEC firm. Through systems combining advanced software and dual displays, designers and clients can literally bring building information to life.
Oculus Rift Stereoscopic 3D view. Courtesy Oculus.
9. Project Tango. Google’s Project Tango is a unique system for handsets and tablets to easily capture and analyze spatial data recorded by device-mounted cameras. In 2014, Trimble announced conceptual applications for use with these devices to leverage BIM data and quickly capture 3D models that can be edited on the device. With Project Tango still in the developmental stage, these applications only hint at what the future of this technology could mean to the AEC world.
10. BIM in the Cloud Computing. While 2013 raised the public’s awareness of big data and cloud computing, it was 2014 that saw this technology begin to come into its own as a BIM tool. Now this technology is helping AEC professionals all over the world collaborate together in way never before possible. This collaboration is accelerating designs while reducing errors and costs.
There is no doubt that 2014 was a landmark year in terms of new and growing technologies in the AEC industry. From smart roads to cloud computing, technology has helped every aspect of design and construction grow. This presents a pleasantly difficult task when one looks back over the year to choose just 10 entries to name as the best technology innovations in AEC.