Construction is an industry as old as humankind. Since our inception, we have needed shelter – what started as mud and straw evolved into concrete and mortar. Today, construction is an interdisciplinary effort of engineers, architects, and contractors. The architectural marvels we see now would not be possible without the help of technology. Construction technology helps us build smarter, more reliable structures, but the field is always evolving.
It may seem like we’ve reached our limit, but future tech might hold some surprises for the construction industry.
Concrete has been a mainstay in the construction industry because it’s cheap and versatile. Unfortunately, it’s also prone to cracking in extreme weather conditions or after some years of simple wear and tear. Previously, the only way to fix deteriorating concrete was to patch it or destroy it and start from scratch. But that’s about to change. Since 2010, researchers have been experimenting with “self-healing concrete.” When a crack forms, this concrete releases a substance – either a sodium silicate or polymer – to fill in the destroyed spots. This innovation would not only make structures safer, but it would have environmental benefits, as well.
Engineers have long been looking for a material as strong as metal, but with the transparent quality of glass. The applications of a clear metal are both aesthetic and practical. For example, engineers could build towering “glass” skyscrapers with less internal support. Military installations could have a 360 view of their environment, yet be impervious to artillery fire. There are the recreational applications, too, from aquariums to zoo exhibits – this substance would be a game changer.
Transparent aluminum is no longer a pipe dream. Military contractors are beginning to experiment with the substance, called ALON, for making armored windows and lenses. We’ll see it in civilian applications soon.
Insulation has always been a pain for construction workers. It’s unwieldy; it requires extra safety equipment; and it can cause injury. But a new innovation aims to change that. Aerogel is a foam-like solid that has super-insulating properties but is light as air. If Michelangelo’s David were made of Aerogel, it would weigh only four pounds! While the technology exists, it’s still too expensive to produce in widespread construction. Once the price comes down, we’ll see it in a variety of residential and commercial projects.
The inspiration for this idea came from an unlikely source – the scourge of many home and construction workers, the termite. Though we view them as pests, termites are actually capable of constructing impressive architectural feats as part of a colossal unit. This caught the attention of Harvard researchers, who proposed building robot “swarms” to tackle preprogrammed projects. The applications are endless, and are ideal for dangerous projects like repairing underwater gas lines. While this is still in the planning stages, it could revolutionize the industry.
A 3D-Printed House?
We’ve been talking about 3D printing for some time now, and the applications seem infinite. If you can dream it, you can print it – and that applies to your dream home, too. A Dutch architecture firm has been planning a public art project that will allow homeowners to 3D-print rooms that assemble like Legos to create a traditional Dutch canal home. Meanwhile, a Chinese construction company says they are creating a 3D printer capable of spraying cement – and they will be able to use it to build 10 houses a day with a $5,000 price tag.
The future of construction seems bright. From automating dangerous and mundane tasks to streamlining efficiency, industry workers can expect technology to make their jobs easier. If you’re worried about robots replacing your jobs, don’t fret – there will always be a place for talented workers.