Skilled labor shortages in the construction trades have had a major impact on the industry.  It drives costs up, can result in delays, but worst of all, it threatens the integrity of the built environment.

Perhaps the biggest issue contributing to the skilled labor shortages is the lack of young people entering the industry. For the past several decades in the US, educators have strongly pushed students away from vocational training and skill development to focus on college prep as the exclusive option following graduation from high school.

That isn’t likely to change anytime soon. The next problem the construction industry has in terms of skilled labor is how to train and educate those that do find themselves in the trades. And for that, most education techniques still go back to hundreds of years ago when guilds ruled various trades and workers apprenticed under masters to learn on the job.

That’s why I think this 360 VR video from the Eastern Illinois University represents what the future of education looks like for the construction industry:

To view the video properly, you’ll need the Chrome web browser on a computer, or use VR goggles with your mobile device.

Smart homes of the future may just as readily respond to instructions sent by text, as the voice-powered interfaces that dominate the early entrants to the market for the Internet of Things in the home. Amazon, Google and Apple all have technologies largely relying on speech recognition, but as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg discovered after installing an extremely sophisticated voice-powered smart home system, not everyone is comfortable with that style of user interface.

Jeremy Wagstaff, writing for Reuters:

Facebook (FB.O) founder Mark Zuckerberg, for example, was working on Jarvis, his own voice-powered AI home automation, and found he preferred communicating by text because, he wrote, “mostly it feels less disturbing to people around me.”

A small Singapore-based firm called Unified Inbox is working on the challenge:

At Unified Inbox, Ruckert looks ahead to being able to communicate not only with one’s own appliances, but with machines elsewhere. Bosch executives in Singapore, for example, have demonstrated how a user could ask a smart CCTV camera how many people were in a particular room.

As famous inventor James Dyson stated in a recent interview:

For me, the future is making everything happen for you without you being particularly involved in it.

Bryan Clark, via The Next Web:

After five years of fighting to increase profits, J.C. Penney is shutting down 130 stores nationwide. For one California startup — and anyone who’s been inside J.C. Penney lately — this didn’t come as a surprise.

Orbital Insight, a venture-funded startup in Palo Alto, uses satellite imagery to track the health of major retailers by analyzing car groupings in the parking lot. Year-over-year, J.C. Penney saw a five percent decrease in the number of cars parked outside, and down over 10 percent for Q1 so far, according to Orbital Insight.

The Outline’s Adrienne Jeffries has more:

The number of cars in J.C. Penney lots was down 5 percent year-over-year in Q4 of 2016, and is down 10 percent year-over-year for Q1 so far, Orbital Insight said.

Orbital Insight, a venture capital-funded satellite intelligence startup based in Palo Alto, tracks 250,000 parking lots for 96 retail chains across the U.S.

Ronald Ray, writing for Construction Specifier, has a great article on different methods for detecting, diagnosing and pinpointing the location of leaks within various types of roofs. What makes Ray’s article so great is some of the cool new technologies outlined representing the bleeding edge of building forensics:

All roofs eventually leak—it is just a matter of when and where. Nevertheless, the hope is that new roofing systems do not leak right from the start. It is critical to verify the watertightness of roofing, especially if it is to be covered with ballast or a vegetated roof assembly. This verification is a field quality-control measure beyond the scope of a roofing manufacturer’s visual inspections for issuance of a warranty. For existing buildings being considered for a reroofing program, conducting a roof survey to determine the location and extent of wet substrates is essential to making fiscally responsible decisions related to the program’s extent…

Other technologies, such as electronic leak testing, can detect leaks with far more reliability than flood-testing. Some electronic leak-testing methods include:

  • electrical capacitance/impedance testing;
  • infrared thermography;
  • nuclear hydrogen detection;
  • low-voltage electrical conductance testing; and
  • high-voltage spark testing.

Appfluence, a project management software provider, recently did a guest post for Construction Junkie that shares the results of a survey the company conducted of 20 different construction project managers, as well as a handful of executives from various construction firms. Their goal was to establish a sort of benchmark by which other construction project management professionals could gauge their own daily progress.

Here is an overview of their findings:

Emails: If you find yourself dealing with more than about 40 emails per day, look for ways to cut back. One way to do this is make sure that each email contains clear, easy-to-follow instructions. This will reduce back-and-forth. For those of you spending too much time digging through your inbox, consider saving important correspondence and document as they are received in a system like Priority Matrix.

Meetings: While meetings can seem like a waste of time, as long as they are run efficiently, they are a great way to share information with your team. To get the most out of meetings, plan your meeting minutes according to pre-existing information about project status and close the meeting with clear action items for each individual.

Construction Document Management: Whether you’re using a software solution or simply shared folders to manage your documents, consider utilizing a project administrator to keep track of it all. If your projects aren’t large enough for a full-time person in this role, this position can act as the point-person for documents on number of projects for your firm simultaneously.

Project Management Software for Construction: Oftentimes, the software used on a project can be determined by factors outside of your control as a construction manager. However, the most important factor may not be the software itself, but earning your teams buy-in to use it consistently in order to keep information centralized in one place for quick access and effective operations.

In my experience, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution in terms of construction project management software. There are plenty of tools that can handle most, if not all aspects of a project, but as pointed out above, you don’t always have control over which tool will be used on a construction project.

The real key differentiator that I’ve seen between OK project managers and great project managers is that the great ones have their own internal workflows and processes that can be adapted to any tool available.

Back in June of 2015, a relatively unknown company by the name of Daqri introduced an augmented reality-enabled hard hat that they dubbed the Smart Helmet.

While there clearly is not yet massive adoption among the trades for a more than $1,000 hard hat, that doesn’t mean Daqri has ceased innovation. In fact, as Construction Junkie reports, the company unveiled its next wearable device purpose-built for the architecture, engineering and construction industry: Smart Glasses. (Not to be confused with Google Glass, of course…)

Here is a video showcasing Daqri’s products at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show:

And here is a case study produced by Autodesk and Mortensen showcasing the Smart Helmet:

Learn more about the entire product line at Daqri’s website.

Sanjoy Malik, writing for Green Biz, discusses an issue that is something most building owners, developers, operators and other stakeholders aren’t too familiar with. However, for those of us with experience in improving/optimizing existing buildings, the issue can be a real deal breaker.

What’s the problem? Since de-regulation of the energy utilities, the data produced by rate-payers is now proprietary. Without readily available access to both quantitative and qualitative data regarding the energy usage of existing buildings of certain sizes and use types, it is extremely difficult to develop new strategies for improving efficiency. (You can’t improve what you can’t measure…)

Malik proposes a new business model mirroring the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model that many technology providers have successfully exploited in the past decade or so:

The Energy-data-as-a-service (EDaaS) model holds great promise for the industry. There are various firms providing services within the energy industry that could benefit from a single source of energy data, including:

  • Accounting and finance. Many firms provide energy budgets, pay utility bills and forecast future costs and progress towards reduction goals. These activities require significant process-oriented operations and analysis capabilities. Adding the acquisition of energy data may be too much effort for these firms.
  • Energy optimization. Energy performance in many buildings can be improved using more detailed data, analyzing it and creating statistical models that include other variables such as weather and occupancy. Firms that provide such analytics products can scale their operations by using a standard energy data provider.
  • Energy procurement and supply. Energy purchasing decisions are complex and firms that provide these services typically invest in analysis of historic bills and bidding and negotiating capabilities to find and secure the best prices on energy. By using a third-party for the raw energy data, they can more quickly make decisions about the procurement strategy for their clients.
  • Sustainability and compliance. Many firms are investing in greater transparency around energy performance, using sustainability reports and other public information disclosures. Many large cities are starting to mandate that building owners get Energy Star scores to benchmark their properties. Both of these processes can be expedited by more quickly and systematically collecting energy data via a third party.

Ever since GoPro tried to launch their new line of drones for their adventure enthusiast market, problems have tarnished the normally stellar reputation for solid, quality-built imaging technologies. Forbes’ Ryan Mac wrote a thorough analysis of the saga, with the provocative headline, “The Sky Is Falling For GoPro.”

The article opens with a story of a disappointed customer’s experience:

Six days after the release of GoPro’s first-ever drone in October, Brian Warholak was itching to get airborne. As an employee at a Chesapeake, Va.-based government contractor, Warholak, 43, had few opportunities during the workweek to fly his new toy. But on Friday, he left his desk early, unpacked his GoPro Karma from its carrying case and set it on a manicured lawn near the company parking lot.

In the video of Warholak’s aeronautic excursion, the drone lurches upward, pausing for its master to pan the attached camera. What it captures initially is unremarkable: a nondescript office building and a mostly empty car park. Then, two minutes into the voyage, the device bricks. Its four propellers cut out and the drone begins a five-second, 170-foot freefall toward earth. It smacks a few tree branches on the way down for good measure and lands camera upward to capture its owner rushing to the crash. “F***, now where is the rest?” Warholak is heard saying on the video. “Son of a b****.”

Here’s the video in question: