Construction has long been one of Canada’s most high-risk industries. Erecting large buildings, working with heavy machinery, managing people, tasks, and meeting deadlines and budget adds to the pressure.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety lists hazards on construction sites ranging from stress to exposure to toxic substances. Workplace injuries, specifically in construction, can be minimized by integrating simple, easy-to-understand technology that bridges the gap between safety procedures, language barriers, and workplace safety.
Brey Tucker, CEO of LEVEL Bot Technologies is working to create greater accessibility leading to safer workplaces in the construction industry.
Tell us about yourself and your experience in the construction industry.
BT: I’ve been in the industry for 20 years, starting as an architecture technologist focused on skyscraper delivery worldwide. As I became more involved with project delivery and BIM (building information modelling) technology, my career continued to veer further into technology exploration and adoption as I took on innovation leadership roles at companies including Stantec, ETRO Construction, and Autodesk.
While at ETRO Construction implementing technology on actual construction sites, I really grew an appreciation for why technology adoption wasn’t happening. It wasn’t necessarily because site workers were against using technology, but because they had never been equipped with technology made for them. Accessibility, durability, safe use and many other issues were the real culprits for adoption failure.
My love for the built world continues to flourish in this endeavour of LEVEL, building technology for site workers with a double bottom line to help the greater construction industry overall.
What do you think is the largest problem that Canada’s construction industry faces today?
BT: Among many challenges, some of the most significant problems we see within the workplace are:
Safety & Wellness of field workers:
As of 2022, the suicide rate in construction is now so high that it’s more likely for a site worker to experience life-threatening depression than a death from a work-related incident. We all need to figure out what we can do to support this industry and make it a place for everyone involved to thrive. Construction is amazing. It’s all around us and makes our homes, offices, parks and all the places that are involved in how we live.
Reporting and Communication:
Everyone in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) space wants actionable data, but only a few companies are making the process of capturing information easy and turning it into tangible insights. Additionally, construction sites are heavily multilingual, and supporting the multitude of communication forms/languages is a complicated problem to solve technically. LEVEL looks at this issue as the founding principle problem that it will solve. All data is born on the construction site in a conversation; this is where the data trail should start.
Invoicing and Payment:
Subcontractors and specialty builders get the short stick in almost every payment pipeline issue, whether it’s a scope disagreement, milestone delay, pole planning impact or just simple cash flow management issues with the project. Builders need better tools to simply help them capture the evidence of what they work on and prove scope milestones to get paid on time.
Do you believe that technology can reduce injuries in the workplace? If yes/no, how?
BT: This is an extremely tricky question. Construction is full of real hazards and unsafe situations that can only be avoided by experience and extremely careful planning. There is no way to remove the danger from construction where millions of things, some of them impossible to anticipate, can cause life-threatening incidents.
That being said, clear communication and capturing the concerns of builders will undoubtedly help make construction sites safer. There are tons of organizations attempting to create frameworks for education, evaluation, and post-incident reviews to continue to grow the knowledge of the industry. LEVEL is interested in capturing this knowledge and translating it into every language, so that every builder’s perspective and experience can be clearly communicated to the industry.
What are voice recognition and image-capturing technologies?
BT: These technologies are the unsung heroes of what makes “AI”… simply work. You can experience some of these technologies for yourself from companies like otter.ai, sama.com, and Google Lens.
These technologies work by being trained on large data sets so that they can recognize certain things in the form of media. For voice, words can be discerned from audio, and if you’re using otter.ai, you can look for phrases across months of meetings — it’s one of my super power tools that I’ve relied on in my last three businesses.
LEVEL utilizes several of these technologies along with NLP (natural language processing) to keep the app simple and powerful, building up meaningful data from many unstructured sources… conversations, and photography.
How can voice recognition and image-capturing technology decrease miscommunication on job sites?
BT: One of the major issues on construction sites is that there is a lot of repeated communication; this leads to miscommunication from certain pieces of information being heard at the wrong time and other pieces of information being missed in the sea of attempted communication across every builder on-site.
Leveraging AI technologies can help filter communication, order information in the sequence it was created within, and help sort asynchronous communication to the right parties at an appropriate time. These AI tools can also help translate between the many languages that are commonly spoken on construction sites.
What are your thoughts on AI within the construction industry overall?
BT: AI is an obvious benefit to every industry, especially to those industries that have been late adopters of technology, construction being one of the lowest-adopted industries.
One silver lining is that there is a benefit for AI when industries are late adopters. For example, suppose a company didn’t get into data management in the 2000s. In that case, there is a low barrier opportunity for using the latest database types that support unstructured information because there are no legacy systems to support them. Those legacy systems prevent many sophisticated companies from adopting AI tools because their data is slow.
Beyond being able to easily adapt to newer technologies, construction has incredible applications because there is just so much information to manage. Any typical project will have over 50 companies attempting to collaborate, generating truckloads of data, producing thousands of hours of work and, in general, dealing with immense levels of complexity. These are all of the fundamental ingredients where AI tools can thrive.
In your opinion, what technological advancements have greatly benefited the AEC space in recent years?
BT: I’m heavily biased on this because my answer will be influenced by my area of expertise, but cloud collaboration has fundamentally changed how AEC works overall. It has opened up deep legal issues on project delivery where those agreements on the ways of working with one another were conceived before the invention of mechanical calculators. More than that, it has opened up a multitude of data plays for information within the built world… in terms of how the industry writes specs, captures issues, and tracks progress.
I also have a deep love for XR (virtual reality, augmented reality, and immersive technologies in general), and I honestly think one of the best applications of these technologies has been in AEC. It’s really hard to imagine things like depth, way-finding and line-of-site work that are incredibly important for the built world.
What is the number one factor that holds trades back from implementing new technologies for efficiency?
BT: There are so many things, but the most significant factor is that trades are often forced to use the tools that the general contractor uses; however, tradespeople usually work for more than one general contractor at all times. Because of this, trades use a bunch of technology, but they’re not able to directly benefit from any of them and, therefore, don’t invest time in many.
Making tools for trades is also hard because every trade is so varying in how they need to use technology, so there are few point solutions broad enough to serve the many types of builders that are out there.
How can organizations do better to support workers in using new AI tools that are accessible?
BT: Having a focused effort on innovation and adoption within every company is critical to finding the right tools for a company and seeing what tools teams will adopt. I love the phrase, “culture eats innovation for lunch,” because it is so true. You can be totally and logically correct in suggesting a tool, but if you don’t have a culture to support new tools and change… it’ll never happen.
What, from your perspective, is the biggest ‘missing piece’ in Canada’s construction industry as it relates to accessible technology?
BT: Larger than just Canada, I think the missing piece in construction is an effective communication platform, and that’s exactly why I’m building this company, LEVEL. Luckily for Canada, I’m building it here first, where all the data will be on Canadian soil and with the help of my Canadian network. If you’re a builder in Canada, I’d love to hear from you and show you what we’re working on.
Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash
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