Integrating Conversational AI and Augmented Reality with BIM for faster and collaborative on-site Construction Assemblage (Conversational-BIM)

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Faculty of Business and Law


The traditional approach to construction is notorious for poor productivity and inadequate contribution to economic development (ONS, 2017). With the aim of boosting productivity, the construction sector must transform its methods of construction and adopt effective digital technologies (TIP, 2017). The adoption of BIM has transformed the way buildings are designed and enhanced the implementation of building manufacturing technologies such as Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFMA). However, the adoption of BIM by onsite frontline workers for assembly of manufactured building components is non-existent. This results in loss of the productivity gain from using BIM for design and manufacturing phases of the process (BCI, 2016). Onsite frontline workers spend more time interfacing with BIM tools than they spend on completing the actual assembly tasks. Current BIM interfaces are not practicable for onsite operations because they are too slow, hazardous and distracting for onsite frontline workers (Construction News, 2017). On this basis, the research will introduce advanced Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Conversational Artificial-Intelligence for enabling onsite frontline workers to verbally communicate with BIM systems.

Assembly operations are complex and are often complicated by the uniqueness of each project, the inconsistency of assembly methods, and the diversity and alterations of project team. During onsite assembly operations, onsite frontline workers are required to quickly understand the procedure of installing building components to minimise assembly errors and reduce the overall project duration. The time spent by frontline workers can be reduced by 50% with the introduction of hands-free assembly support BIM system that utilises verbal communication. In addition to boosting productivity, it will further enhance error-free assembly operation through step-by-by assembly guide for pre-manufactured/pre-assembled building components.

The development of technologies to aid easy adoption of BIM for onsite assembly has great potential to revolutionise the current approach to construction. However, apart from the slow pace and hazardous nature of current BIM interfaces, other limitations include visual obstruction, distraction and the associated health and safety challenge for frontline workers.

This project aims to utilise Augmented Reality (AR) for providing visual support to access BIM systems and installation guides without obstructing or distracting the view of onsite workers. This will provide accurate and just-in-time information for online frontline workers to gradually follow the installation guide of manufactured building components. For example, an onsite assembly worker can merely ask, "hey Conversational-BIM, guide me through toilet installation" and the system will facilitate the assembly procedures through AR-assisted verbal instructions, the AR device will overlay the exact illustration of the assembly steps on the actual components onsite.

It is important to note that onsite coordination between resources is vital for boosting productivity and guaranteeing faster and safer assembly (ICE, 2018). This project will therefore exploit advanced AI, computer visions, and AR technologies to develop an end-to-end BIM solution to support onsite assembly operations. In addition to boosting the productivity of frontline assembly workers, this project seeks to eliminate the tedious process of coordinating onsite activities which often involve multiple workers and machinery. Accordingly, the AR-assisted Conversational-BIM system will ensure a coordinated approach for remote experts to guide frontline workers and monitor project progress and productivity.

Planned Impact

Appropriateness of project partners in the context of the Transforming Construction challenge:
The BDAL team under the leadership of the PI has worked on a number of collaborative and applied research projects with large enterprises (Balfour Beatty, Costain, Schneider Electric, Airbus and Rolls Royce), and various SMEs (Waste Plan Solutions, Sustainable Directions Limited, MobiBiz, TerOpta, etc.). The consortium is therefore well positioned and appropriate to ensure that the Transforming Construction challenge's aim of revolutionising the construction sector is achieved. The industrial partners have shown a high level of commitment to the realisation of the aim and objectives of this proposal through the provision of a real-life environment for testing and deployment of the proposed solution. They have also promised to organise necessary stakeholders workshops for proof of concept demonstrations to the industry players and regulatory bodies.

Plans to manage and expand the range of stakeholders engaged throughout the award:
The targeted end user and stakeholders of the proposed solutions include: Contractors and their supply chain, Engineers, Architects, Private Sector Clients, and the Academic Community. The team will adopt the following approach among others, to reach out and manage these stakeholders
1.Demonstration projects: Demonstration projects for building assemblage would be selected as case studies in organised workshops. These demonstration projects will be used to showcase the novelty of the exploitable outputs.
2. Public Project Website: A website for the project will be developed to serve as the dissemination vehicle and interface with the public seeking information about the project and its areas of activities.
3. Leaflets and Newsletter: There will be a quarterly release of leaflets and newsletters describing the project's solution development progress.
4. Participation in Target Events: The project team would target major events within the construction industry particularly those organised by UKCG, ICE, CIOB, RISC, RIBA among others. The findings of this project would be discussed during these events.
5. Integrated Workshops and Demo Sessions: Acknowledging the potential ability of innovative technologies to disrupt the construction industry, integrated workshops would be organised that will involve main contractors and their supply chains, logistics/support companies and clients.

Plans for maximising economic, academic and societal impact:
Intellectual Property Right (IPR) and a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) will be signed with industry partners and the proposed solution will be offered to the market as a service. This will be achieved through the setting up of Conversational-BIM-as-a-Service Platform. The end-users commercial licence agreements will be established for national and global roll-out.
The results of findings from this research project will be presented regularly at academic conferences, Special Interest Group (SIG) meetings and published in journals. The presentation and publishing of these results will enable the academic community to benefit maximally from this project.

At the Societal level, the proposed research project will contribute to the UK leadership in the Global Construction market. It will also provide an opportunity to increase the export capabilities of the UK through the sale of the product to other construction firms in the EU, US, Australia and Asian markets. It will also open up new opportunities for commercialisation and standardisation of building components and enhance sustainable adoption of cutting-edge digital technologies for onsite assemblage.

How policy, standards or regulatory barriers will be addressed:
A Product approval/Exploitation Manager will be appointed to ensure that standards and regulatory requirements are met while developing the solution. The manager will also drive the full exploitation of the solution at the roll-out stage.


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