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Digital revolution: how new technologies are changing the world of civil engineering


In the era of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, the engineer is even able to visualize the 3D version of a project from the tablet, control the worksite remotely and get up-to-date data in real-time.

The adoption of new technological tools and the rise of IoT (Internet of Things) and AI (Artificial Intelligence) are radically transforming the civil engineering sector, making changes – that would once have taken decades – possible in a matter of months. The variety of technologies introduced in recent years – including robotics, 3D printing, drones, augmented and virtual reality and BIM technology – affects every step of the construction process, from project conception to its formalization, passing from the plan execution to technical and economic site management, up to the most advanced building and facility management practices.

For instance, through augmented and virtual reality (AVR) it is possible to visualize a project, which until now only existed within computer design software, in its real-life form. Between 2016 and 2020, studies on the application of AVR in the infrastructure sector grew rapidly, with the United States and China among the most advanced countries, having carried out 40% of existing research in this field.

Drones are another tool that is finding increasing application in the sector, facilitating not only the constant monitoring of the project, without being on-site, but also the timely updating of data collection. Drones also play an important role in terms of safety, since they allow to inspect the most dangerous areas remotely and with extreme precision. For example, during the rock-cutting phases, engineers are able to conduct remote surveys to avoid exposure to risk.

As far as monitoring, IoT technology, alongside the use of smart sensors, allows engineers to monitor information from anywhere using modern communication technologies, such as mobile phones and satellites. In this way, it is possible to promptly intervene in case of possible critical evolutions in the structure. Additionally, IoT can have a positive impact on working conditions for employees on construction sites, indeed sensors placed directly on clothing and protective helmets can detect and warn in case of dangerous conditions or unsafe areas.

Regarding process improvement, AI grants an accurate and shareable data collection, which can help engineers to monitor and streamline output. In this sense, construction sites equipped with AI-supported cameras work as “smart” ecosystems: indeed, these advanced tools provide real-time footage, which collects and evaluates data to support managers with predictions about the resources employed and the division of labour.

This insight into the innovation of the engineering industry gives a clear idea of the future trends that will mark the coming years: human-machine interaction will facilitate remote control and the engineer’s on-site presence will be compensated by the possibility of a continuous remote fact-checking; while the worker’s exposure to risk zones will be increasingly reduced in favour of greater safety. Finally, the opportunity to have access to a large amount of data will increase the reliability of project forecasts. Therefore, the construction sites of the future will be “smarter” and more sustainable.

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