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How emerging technologies are changing the built environment

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By Amol Shimpi

Emerging technologies have the potential of changing the entire face of the industry they are deployed in. Generally, they are new and disruptive but can also include earlier technologies that are still controversial and relatively underutilised compared to their potential. Diverse technologies are emerging in education, information, nanotechnology, biotechnology, cognitive science, psycho-technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence. AI, Robotics, IoT are some of the well-recognised emerging technologies in the world today.

Amol Shimpi, Associate Dean & Director, RICS School of Built Environment

They represent technical innovations and changes required for dynamic developments within a field for ambitious advantage. In any industry, therefore, its technologies play a vital role as they bring growth acceleration. Similarly, emerging technologies are playing a crucial role in the development of the sector by bringing about watershed changes in the built environment. They are changing the very shape of cities.

Even though, the built environment (BE) industry continues to use some obsolete acquisition models, purchasing structures and policies which hampers digital integration, some emerging technology are improving BE industry by expanding its efficiencies and opportunities across the life-cycle of amenities, such as those created by systems like building information modeling (BIM). Other technologies transforming the built environment sector are drones for hazardous construction, 3D printing to create structural walls on the buildings and Building Information Modeling (BIM), a process which requires the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places, Smart devices, and Virtual reality for visualization of construction.

Emerging technologies are responsible for the upgradation of urban areas to smart cities and automated processes herald new business opportunities. Artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and other technologies are transforming environment underpinning the future of real estate industry.

The influence of technological disruption has impacted this industry to transcend the possibility of automation in construction or the introduction of robotic substitution of real estate agents. The question then arises is as to how will these broader consequences shape our built environment?

The industry thinks that the introduction of technological innovation will elongate our life expectancy, completely alter the job market and affect our ecosphere and social life.

These incredible tech advancements are optimising efficiency and productivity at every stage, from planning to construction. Indeed, many within the industry predict that in a decade a building site will look very different.

According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), world’s urban population is predicted to be increased by 35 per cent by 2050 in three countries i.e. India, China, and Nigeria, and among these three, India’s urban population will be the maximum. In terms of steep numbers, the largest urban transformation of the 21st century is happening in India. The Indian real estate and infrastructure industry is a decisive contributor to the growth of this sector. India’s real estate sector is expected to contribute 13 per cent of the country’s GDP by 2025 and reach a market size by US$1 trillion by 2030, as reportedby the World Economic Forum. This will bring colossal change in the use of emerging technologies in the built environment sector.

According to a survey, the real estate sector is accountable for more than 20 per cent of carbon emissions, which must be significantly reduced to avoid further destabilising our climate and to meet the future challenges from demographic changes. The combination of 3D printing and synthetic biology is expected to create a more sustainable industry.

The 3D printed structures will be more flexible and improve structural stability, increasing the life cycle and decreasing maintenance of the built environment, while reducing the input of resources. While the combination of these technologies might provide a more sustainable built environment, it may also disrupt manufacturing and logistics, affecting entire communities’ job markets.

The following five technologies are slated to the game-changers in the construction world:

1) Drones

2) 3D printing

3) Building information modeling

4) Smart devices

5) Virtual reality

With all the above changes, the skill set requisite of human resources for the built environment is already undergoing a sea-change. For producing appropriately skilled work force, only the right kind of education will be able to cater to the BE sector.

The built environment is a large, diverse and exhilarating industry with traditional areas such as construction, property, and land surveying. It is a career path that is academically disciplined, intellectually rigorous with full of philosophy and at the same time students get opportunities to build, make and design their own dreams through their techno-managerial skills (combination of technology and management skills). Professions within the new-age built environment consist of design, engineering, surveying, management, and planning.

The only way to develop the above skills is for students desirous of joining this sector to join the techno-managerial courses offered by various universities across the nation which are validated by the higher education regulatory bodies and internationally recognised. The future of our built environment is in our hands. We have to decide what kind of houses we want to live in;what kind of offices and factories we want to work in; and how much work and effort we are willing to put in to make our ‘wants’ a reality.

(The writer is Associate Dean & Director, RICS School of Built Environment, Mumbai)


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