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AI in civil engineering: 6 application examples, all the advantages and new challenges for the future

Artificial intelligence (AI) in civil engineering helps to improve the efficiency of civil works projects. Discover some use cases and all the advantages it offers to the construction industry

Artificial intelligence is among the technological innovations that are driving the digital transformation of the construction sector. But how does this technology work and why is it so important for civil engineering? What are the most common uses in our industry? What advantages does artificial intelligence offer over traditional design and construction methods?

If you are also asking yourself similar questions, in this article I will provide you with the answers you need to better understand the potential of AI in civil engineering, and I will help you explore the techniques used by designers and contractors to achieve more reliable, economical and efficient construction projects.

But first, you have to know that the starting point to be able to make the most of the potential of artificial intelligence in the design of civil works are the BIM models: if you are interested in this technology I recommend you download a 3D/BIM building design software immediately. This type of software will allow you to easily model the designed structures, and create a reliable information base that you can use for the different applications focused on artificial intelligence that you will discover in this article.

What is AI in civil engineering?

The application of artificial intelligence in civil engineering refers to the use of computerized systems that aim to simplify and automate the processes of design and construction of civil works.

In its broadest meaning, artificial intelligence (AI) represents the scientific discipline that deals with the study, design and implementation of technologies that are able to imitate the cognitive abilities of a human being.

Common examples of intelligent systems, which have the ability to understand users’ interests and requests, and provide adequate responses to their needs, are voice assistants, home automation systems, search engines, satellite navigation, etc.

Artificial intelligence has been used for a long time and with enormous success in many sectors: from the manufacturing industry to medical diagnostics, from e-commerce to video games, and so on. Now more than ever, we are witnessing the development and deployment of intelligent systems also in the field of civil engineering.

Thanks to these systems, which are able to learn from their mistakes and carry out activities similar to those carried out by human beings, it is possible to solve most of the problems related to the construction of buildings and infrastructure.

Before analyzing the different applications of AI in civil engineering, let’s discover together what are the learning techniques on which this technology is based.

Intelligenza artificiale (AI) nell’ingegneria civile

Artificial intelligence in civil engineering

What are the artificial intelligence techniques used in civil engineering

Unlike normal software, machines equipped with artificial intelligence have the ability to:

  • perceive the world around them and collect useful data and information;
  • understand the perceived reality, logically linking the information collected;
  • autonomously carry out operations (computer or mechanical), deciding to act without any command from man;
  • learn in relation to the results deriving from their actions, continuously improving and learning from their mistakes.

Machine learning ability is one of the key features of intelligent systems used in civil engineering. This capacity can be developed through the following techniques:

  • Evolutionary calculus: is a learning technique based on concepts of evolutionary biology (i.e. Darwinian). This technique is implemented on computer systems to solve complex problems, characterized by too many variables to be addressed with traditional algorithms. Evolutionary calculation is widely used in civil engineering to address optimization problems and to automate project production.
  • Artificial neural networks: are mathematical models consisting of artificial neurons that reflect the behavior of the human brain. Neural networks allow computer programs to recognize patterns and solve common problems. In engineering, they are used to improve decision-making processes, make forecasts, perform data analysis, monitor structures, control robot movement, etc.
  • Fuzzy systems: the term “fuzzy” means “blurred” and refers to the ability of these systems to handle imprecise or vague inputs, employing a way of reasoning that is closer to that of human beings (who do not always adopt a rigorous and well-defined logic). Fuzzy logic helps computer systems used in civil engineering handle inaccurate inputs and outputs, and allows you to model construction times, costs and risks. Fuzzy systems are also used to assess the quality of infrastructure projects.
  • Expert systems: are technological applications capable of solving problems belonging to a specific domain, and which can reach or even exceed the human performance of an expert operating in that particular sector. Expert systems are mainly used in construction and geotechnical engineering, to analyse the energy consumption of buildings or to carry out geological surveys.

AI in civil engineering: 6 application examples

Artificial intelligence can have a significant impact on the evolution of the AEC (Architecture, Engineering & Construction) sector. Its applications in the field of civil engineering are vast and diverse. Here are the 6 most significant:

  • Intelligent design. The construction of a civil work (such as a bridge, a building, a road or a railway) almost always requires careful preliminary planning. AI-enabled tools and software can help designers to automatically extract and analyze the data needed for design (such as material properties, energy data, environmental characteristics, etc.). Artificial intelligence can also be used to strengthen processes based on Building Information Modeling (BIM) methodology. The integration between BIM and AI allows you to create, through the help of special BIM Authoring software and BIM Tools, digital models complete with the information necessary to perform project analysis, automatically create drawings and relationships, schedule jobs, simulate the behavior of structures, etc. During the design phase, intelligent algorithms can also be used to analyze different design alternatives (through the so-called generative design), evaluate efficient solutions in terms of resources and create low-risk execution plans. A further application is the simulation of virtual or augmented reality projects. These simulations are intended to provide the customer with a complete and realistic view of the final product, and to collect suggestions for possible improvements.
  • Analysis of times and costs. Machine learning algorithms allow civil engineers to have a clear picture of cost estimates and allow them to formulate more accurate budgets, based on the results obtained in previous projects and through the study of future forecasts. In addition to predicting possible cost overruns, artificial intelligence also makes it possible to plan the timing for the implementation of the project, taking any risk into account.
  • Management of the construction process. During the construction phase, companies can use robots based on artificial intelligence equipped with cameras, which are able to move autonomously through the construction site to acquire 3D images. With the help of neural networks, these images can be compared with data and information from the BIM model, in order to track the progress of the project. Intelligent construction robots, on the other hand, allow a wide range of activities related to the construction site (such as tracing foundations, excavation, masonry construction, construction of complex elements, etc.) to be carried out. When used properly, these machines have the potential to reduce project costs, improve efficiency, increase safety, and allow workers to focus on less repetitive and slaughtering activities. Among the most innovative technologies used in the construction phase, we also find 3D printing based on artificial intelligence. This technology allows you to automate much of the construction process because it allows you to “print” large 3D constructions and objects at high speed and with great precision.
Robot intelligenti che eseguono operazioni di saldatura - Intelligenza artificiale (AI) nell’ingegneria civile

Robots performing welding operations

  • Identification and mitigation of risks. AI can help civil engineers identify potential hazards in the construction process and implement measures useful for risk control. Artificial intelligence-enabled cameras and networks can, in fact, constantly monitor all areas of the construction site and allow engineers to evaluate the use of equipment, monitor progress and analyze all activities in real time.
  • Facility Management. Once the project is completed, facility managers can rely on AI to monitor energy consumption, optimize plant performance, schedule predictive maintenance, improve health and safety protocols, etc. All these applications are made possible by the integration of artificial intelligence with modernInternet of Things (IoT) technologies.
  • Monitoring of the Structural health.Intelligent systems can be used to monitor the health status of large-scale buildings and infrastructure projects (such as bridges, pipelines, dams, etc.). Through the installation of intelligent sensors it is possible, in fact, to acquire periodic measurements and implement continuous surveillance strategies that allow to assess the vulnerability of the structures and to maintain a high level of safety and efficiency over time.

I would remind you that in each of these use cases, the potential of artificial intelligence cannot be exploited unless a reliable set of information relating to construction projects is available. This information can only be found through the use of the BIM methodology.

If you have never created a BIM model you can start immediately with a professional 3D/BIM building design software but it offers a particularly simple and intuitive interface that allows you to achieve excellent results in BIM design in a very short time.

All the Benefits of Artificial Intelligence Applied to Civil Engineering

The AI is proving to be a useful ally for all those involved in the design, construction and management of civil works. Among the most significant advantages that intelligent systems are able to offer to the construction sector, we find for example:

  • the best project planning: technologies based on artificial intelligence make it possible to identify the optimal design solution, reducing redundancies and improving the overall quality of the final result;
  • the control of construction times and costs: since artificial intelligence tools can easily predict any risk or contingency, appropriate measures can be taken to ensure compliance with construction times and costs through their use;
  • the reduction of the risk of accidents at work: the construction site can become a safer place thanks to artificial intelligence. The most dangerous jobs can be performed by robots, which are programmed to learn from interactions with the surrounding environment;
  • the increasing efficiency and productivity: robots and autonomously driven construction machines can perform repetitive activities (such as welding, wall construction, concrete casting) efficiently and quickly, and without the need to stop.
  • the simplification of the survey process: with the help of drones, intelligent technologies can be exploited to carry out ground surveys and take aerial photos of the construction site, necessary to ensure more efficient project management and to track the progress of the work;
  • the best maintenance management: the integration between intelligent systems and IoT technologies ensures an optimised management of maintenance processes, and contributes to extending the life cycle of buildings and infrastructures.

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The Future of Artificial Intelligence in Civil Engineering

Artificial intelligence can be considered as the driving force for the future digital transformation of the construction sector. The encouraging results of current AI applications in civil engineering pave the way for even wider use scenarios.

Many companies have already experimented with the production of robots capable of building structures in extreme conditions, in order to limit human intervention in particularly dangerous or dangerous situations. In addition to strengthening safety management, smart systems can be used to build smarter cities, improve work efficiency, optimise transport routes, etc.

Of course, the challenges to be faced for a wider diffusion of artificial intelligence in civil engineering are still many, and include fairly high implementation costs and the production of systems capable of acting and learning only in the area for which they were designed. However, the AI has shown that it has the potential to transform the construction sector for the better, and there is no doubt that we will soon see its adoption on a large scale.

My advice is not to be unprepared for this transformation that is increasingly rapidly investing in the AEC sector, and that is strongly linked to the use of BIM models. Revolutionize the way you design and rely on BIM software as soon as possible.