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2050 vision: How does Balfour Beatty see construction's future?

What will the construction industry look like in 2050? 

Well, if you’re a bricklayer – or any type of site worker for that matter – the future does not look rosy.

According to Balfour Beatty, construction sites will be human-free within 30 years. This stark prediction came today as the firm unveiled its blueprint for the industry’s digital future: Innovation 2050. 

Balfour believes – and there’s no reason to doubt it – that robots will take many of the jobs currently done on construction sites. Drones will scan the building site, which will send instructions to robotic cranes, diggers and automated builders.

So what will the role of humans be? 

Essentially “human overseers”, as Balfour calls them, will remotely manage multiple projects using 3D and 4D augmented and virtual reality and data from on-site machines – Balfour already has six trained drone pilots within its ranks.

If this sounds a bit scary, then you had better get used to it.

As Balfour also points out in its report, it is predicted that two-thirds of schoolchildren today will work in jobs that do not yet exist.

As the company flags, robots are already here in many other forms of life – such as automated supermarket tills, autonomous cars and voice-activated technologies.

With all this new-fangled wizardry, construction will need to attract a new type of workforce. As Balfour Beatty’s boss Leo Quinn acknowledged today there is a job to do to “describe the magic” of what construction achieves and “encourage the next generation” into the sector.

“The image of the industry is muddy boots and bad weather, but the truth is there is an awful lot that goes on behind the scenes before you even get onto site,” Mr Quinn said.

We’ve heard similar before, of course.

But now it is essential, with the industry grappling with this brave new world that it steps up its search for the brightest technology talent.

It will not, however, be all plain sailing in this bright new world.

Construction may get faster, safer and more productive but dangers will still lurk. As Balfour warns, cyberattacks are likely to become more prevalent, citing the example of last month’s ‘WannaCry’ ransomware attack.

Yet as the company says, change in the industry is overdue and the digital revolution will “redefine the sector”.

How quick that change comes about may be up for question, but the message is clear: the industry must embrace the robots in order to build the future. 

You have been warned.

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