Construction and technology are two industries that have changed dramatically in recent years due to advances in research and development. With what outcome?
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Innovations in Construction Technology
Experts in both fields have started working together in an effort to improve construction processes with the help of advanced technology. The resulting developments are set to revolutionise the construction industry, leading to infrastructure that is safer, more durable and easier to maintain.
1. Bendable Concrete
Imagine a product that weighed up to forty times less than standard concrete, had fifty times more flexibility but was still just as durable?
This is what a team from Nanyung Technological University in Singapore set out to create, a concrete that was less brittle, and capable of flexing without cracking. Their product is called ConFlexPave and, so far it is living up to the hype.
Instead of just the standard mix of water, aggregate and cement, the team of scientists incorporated a mix of polymer microfibres, which enhances the ductile properties of the concrete. When subjected to pressure, the fibres allow for the layers within the concrete to shift from side to side whilst staying intact, instead of just cracking like standard concrete would. As a result, bendable concrete can be installed in seismic zones, reduce ongoing maintenance costs and, as a precast product, even cut down on initial installation times.
2. Heavy Duty Construction Phone
Those working in the construction industry are familiar with the pain resulting from a destroyed smartphone. In a bid to shake things up, CAT (best known for their heavy moving equipment) has developed what surely must be the most indestructible smartphone to date: the CAT S60.
Not only can this phone survive underwater submersion (over an hour at a depth of 5 metres) and falls of 2 metres, but it also incorporates a thermal imaging camera that can see through smoke.
The phone can ascertain specific temperatures at a distance of 15-23 metres, in addition to registering temperature changes up to 30 metres away. More than just an impressive gadget, this technology will assist those in the construction industry with detecting electrical faults, locating subfloor heating issues and even in identifying machinery problems prior to a breakdown.
3. Electrified Concrete
According to the US Department of Transportation, over 116,800 people are injured every year as a result of car crashes caused by snow or ice on roads. In an effort to eliminate this statistic, Professor Chris Tuan (University of Nebraska) has been working on an electrified concrete product that would melt snow and prevent ice from forming on roads.
His breakthrough came when he introduced metal fibres and carbon particles into a standard concrete mix. When metal rods are inserted into the concrete and electrified, these particles produce heat, which in turn will melt ice and snow, even during heavy winter snowstorms.
This amalgamation of infrastructure and technology is currently being tested by the US Federal Aviation Administration for potential use on tarmacs at US airports.
4. Robot Gloves
Anyone who has ever performed intricate and extended work with their hands will understand the pain of muscle fatigue. This is a common problem for workers in both manufacturing and construction, which is why the concept of the RoboGlove is so exciting.
A veritable exoskeleton, the RoboGlove has pressure sensors to determine when the wearer is gripping an object. This sensor will then strengthen the grip on the object thanks to technology that copies human biology (specifically, the muscles and tendons in the hand and arm).
Although the concept of a robot glove was first pioneered by NASA and GM for use on the International Space Station, the idea has now been licensed to Bioservo Technologies, a medical technology company based in Sweden.
5. Self-Driving Cab-less Dump Truck
The concept of a self-driving vehicle is by no means new, but the latest development from Komatsu is set to shake up the construction industry.
The Japanese equipment maker has been producing self-driving trucks for 10 years now, but even with this technology it was still necessary for the vehicles to drive forwards into a location, then negotiate a 3-point turn in order to get back out.
The new Komatsu haul truck is fully autonomous and has no cab – the front looks exactly the same as the back, and it can be operated in this manner. So rather than waste time and productivity trying to turn trucks around, operators can now drive them in and then drive them straight back out the same way, no 3-point turn required!
6. Solar Panel Roads
A village in Normandy, France, has the honour of being the first place in the world with a solar panel highway. The 1 km stretch of road in Tourouvre au Perche is aiming to power 140 local houses, thanks to the 2,800 square metres of solar cells.
These thin panels have been retrofitted over the top of the existing roadway and are now being tested for 2 years to see if they can withstand heavy traffic and still create the desired level of power. Meanwhile, a tech start-up company in the US state of Idaho is also aiming to cover roads with solar panels. The hexagonal glass panels, developed by Solar Roadways, only weigh 30 kgs, yet are strong enough to endure being driven over by a small truck.
The panels absorb sunlight, which is then converted into heat in order to melt snow and ice. Additionally, these panels have been programmed to display different colours and signals, meaning they could eventually take the place of traffic signs and road markings. The panels are currently being tested for use as a footpath in a Missouri town along Route 66.
7. Surface-Clinging Drones
The suggestion that a drone could be used to inspect infrastructure was refuted by the fact that drones can’t be flown too close to structures – the design of the drone makes them incapable of withstanding gusts of wind while hovering.
As a result, any drone that was flown too close to a building or bridge would more than likely crash. To address this problem, PRODRONE, a Japanese company, developed a drone shaped like an inverted ‘L’ that is capable of ‘clinging’ to structures (both vertical and horizontal).
This means that the drone can be used for inspecting buildings and bridges at an extremely close range and is able to recognise cracks in concrete that are less than 0.1mm thick.