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Gundars Kaupins: Internet of Things could change home construction

The construction industry is about to drastically change its operations with the Internet of Things. This concept is simple: Through sensors, every object can be connected to every other object using the Internet. In construction, the uses are limitless.

Sensors on or within construction crews can keep supervisors informed of their location to more efficiently guide skilled people to the right part of a construction site, determine how long they have been working there, and conform to time-clock constraints, union rules, safety laws and health needs. Health needs? Sensors within crew members can determine if body temperatures are too warm or cold, liquid intake is too small, alcohol/drugs have been taken, or blood pressure is too high. They can alert supervisors and medical personnel to major problems.

Sensors on blueprints, either the paper kind or programmed on the computer, can alert contractors that sensors within floor joists, block foundation walls, vent piping, plywood subflooring, fire stops and other building assets are out of place. These sensors can alert contractors if building assets have been inappropriately removed from the construction site.

Idaho has many bridges that need repair. Sensors on these bridges can detect flexing as vehicles cross, the weight and number of vehicles crossing, people under bridges, cracks, moisture seeping through the structure, and the stability of the earth anchoring the bridge. They can alert highway departments and police to any problems.

Construction trucks and equipment traveling on those bridges also need attention. Beyond the obligatory GPS to determine the shortest route to a job site, sensors can detect problems with a truck’s engine so the truck can be diverted to the nearest appropriate repair shop. If a truck gets diverted, sensors can “tell” other relevant trucks to go to the job site. Before a disabled truck enters the repair shop, mechanics could already know what is wrong and have replacement parts available.

Sensors are consistently getting cheaper, smaller and more flexible. As a result, considerable money could potentially be saved with more efficient use of equipment and people, greater security of resources and a more accurate follow-through with blueprint designs.

Are there down sides? You bet. With so many sensors, crew-member privacy would be limited because any action could be monitored, whether work-related or not. A body sensor could determine that a worker is pregnant, and a supervisor could illegally remove that worker from the job site. The pregnancy determination itself might not be accurate.

Speaking of accuracy, machine sensors might make major decisions that affect the movement of trucks and installation of joists. What happens if there is a system error due to poor programming, malware or another cause? Who is responsible for a malware error that leads to a building constructed over a sinkhole?

With so many sensors around, it might be difficult for humans to keep up with the massive amounts of data. Where will the data be stored? Will there be capacity to store it?

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