Impact of Technology on Infrastructure Areas: Housing
Transformations in building materials and construction techniques could lead to improvements in controlling and reducing environmental impact and construction costs
Building of homes supported by advanced manufacturing and automation solutions
Advanced Manufacturing, including additive manufacturing techniques, can change how houses are built. Mobile 3D construction printers, capable of printing whole buildings completely on site, are being used to build houses more quickly and cheaply. Advanced manufacturing techniques will also enable more modular and off-site building processes that may improve productivity and decrease costs. More prefabricated and standardised components will also further enable robotic construction. As a highly labour-intensive industry, construction could benefit from robotic deployments, although uptake will be driven by wider economic drivers – labour availability being a key one. Combined with artificial intelligence and 3D printing, robots could improve the speed of construction work. In the longer-term, swarm robots could be used to build entire houses, piece by piece. Drones and autonomous vehicles will have implications in the nearer term for security, surveillance and inspection, as well as for deliveries. Increased automation could also mitigate any potential skills shortages. The Construction Scotland Innovation Centre is enabling opportunities for collaboration and experimentation for automation and other technology solutions relevant to construction.
Advanced Materials such as encapsulated ceramics, self-healing cement, super-hydrophobic coatings, anti-corrosion paints and interlocking blocks of recycled materials can all potentially support improvements in material longevity and a reduction in maintenance costs.
Virtual and Augmented Reality solutions (VR & AR) can help investors, buyers and councils visualise a property and recommend changes to the plans. Virtual reality (VR) immerses users in a fully artificial digital environment whereas augmented reality (AR) overlays virtual objects on the real-world environment. Building information modelling (BIM), a process using various tools and technologies to generate and manage digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places, is also increasingly being used as an advanced standard of operation in the construction industry, to drive up standards and productivity.
A consortium including the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre has secured £1m of funding from Innovate UK to develop the use of virtual and augmented reality in the construction industry. This will create an Augmented Worker System, to help companies with intelligent design, construction, maintenance and the whole-life value of buildings.
Making homes smart, connected and energy efficient
The Internet of Things and Advanced Sensing technologies are enabling the development of the connected or smart home concept. The Internet of Things (IoT) connects multiple smart devices and objects to a single network over the Internet. It allows data exchange in a secure manner, providing opportunities for developing energy efficiency solutions, or enabling telehealth and care solutions, for example. The Scottish Government is piloting innovative intergenerational and co-housing housing solutions for older people, which could also drive technology solutions.
Renewable Energy technology advances will also enable improved energy management in homes and buildings. Low carbon heating, electrification of heat with heat pumps and renewable energy through Distributed Generation will provide the opportunity to attain net zero energy buildings. Energy Storage will also be increasingly important, particularly with Electric Vehicle adoption.
CleverCogs, a digital care and support system developed by Just Economics, Blackwood Housing and the Scottish Government, provides specialised care services in homes for people with disabilities. It provides simplified access to various assets such as internet connection or video cameras, enabling increased use of Technology Enabled Care in service delivery and access to online health information and social media. The aim is to increase digital participation amongst people currently excluded.
Implications for housing infrastructure investment
- Investments in advanced manufacturing techniques and off-site prefabrication technologies could enable time savings in construction, reduce material waste and make construction sites less demanding in terms of transport needs (by reducing the number of delivery trips). This will also impact on planning processes around vehicle access to building sites.
- New technologies could allow a greater focus on driving the circular economy in the construction industry, as housing could be designed for disassembly and components could be more easily re-used, re-manufactured or re-cycled. This would require planning for new centres for handling, storing and re-purposing materials retrieved from deconstructed houses.
- Deploying more automated and robotic solutions is likely to have an impact on skills and jobs in the construction industry, potentially changing the type of work people will undertake and requiring reskilling or upskilling of the workforce.
- Using advanced materials such as hydrophobic coatings or self-healing concrete will result in improved material and infrastructure longevity, reducing the investment required for maintenance. Advanced materials (such as graphene) could also enable new types of structures to be built that are stronger, lighter and greener which could have positive environmental impacts. Maintenance planning protocols would need to be reviewed.
- Augmented and Virtual Reality solutions could have a positive impact on cost reduction both for new-build social housing and public buildings, as well as for their maintenance. This is enabled by enhanced productivity per worker and by making maintenance functions more efficient.
- Smart Homes can enable greater energy efficiency by using intelligent systems to better manage energy usage based on occupation and activity. Deployment of smart solutions in social housing and public buildings could enable substantial savings, as well as provide remote health and care solutions for the elderly.
- The move towards renewable energy and energy self-sufficiency could see more investment in passive heating and cooling design, natural ventilation and local energy generation in homes. Homes could also include charging stations for electric vehicles as a default setting in new-build environments.
Key 5-year perspectives
- Given limited adoption of automation in the construction industry so far, we expect robots to have a small impact on construction in the short term. However, there are already instances of use for 3D printers, drones and unmanned machinery on building sites. Automation could increase if skills shortages worsen.
- The Internet of Things (IoT) will have implications for controlling our homes and organising our lives (e.g. Nest and Amazon Alexa), which could improve the resource efficiency and security of homes
- Smart homes will begin to deliver benefits such as energy efficiency and proactive healthcare management in the 5-year time frame, but these impacts will be greater over a 10-15 year timeframe.
Key 30-year perspectives
- With advances in AI and robotics, construction techniques could be significantly automated by 2050.
- Advanced manufacturing techniques and 3D printing will be mainstream in this timeframe. New materials that are lighter, smarter, stronger and greener will be available by 2030 and they could support completely new structures.
- Advanced materials, such as self-healing materials, could lead to lower maintenance requirements and decrease the need for repairs on construction components, such as concrete.
- With increased automation and the use of prefabricated building components, house construction costs could be more effectively managed, enabling quicker supply (although this depends on other factors too).
Implications for inclusive growth and the transition to a low carbon economy
- Bio-based materials, with enhanced performance, could enable more sustainable buildings.
- Better connectivity could meet the increasing requirement for remote working. House design could accommodate ‘remote working’ function rooms and housing developments could be in more varied locations.
- Smart homes will help reduce carbon emissions.
- Advanced building techniques could create more affordable housing solutions. Areas such as social housing could conceivably benefit from better supply capability.
- Smart, connected homes can enable more independent living for disabled and elderly residents.