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ACTOR coordinates construction automatically with robots and AI

ACTOR is a Finnish R&D project that aims to solve some of construction’s biggest performance challenges. The project consortium seeks a world-first technological breakthrough that automates situational awareness for construction participants. The project is receiving funding from Business Finland.
A man uses a tablet computer at a construction site.
A man uses a tablet computer at a construction site.

ACTOR, or the Automatic Coordination of Construction Actors, is a two-year project that began in January 2022. Aalto University leads the consortium, its partners being VTT, Carinafour, Flow Technologies, Trimble Solutions Oy, and Kone.

With a budget of 3.8 million euro, the project builds on previous research by Aalto and VTT that uncovered the root causes and consequences of poor construction performance. ACTOR takes decisive steps to solve productivity problems and decrease material wastage and energy consumption on construction sites.

Because of the strong connection between construction performance and carbon emissions, the project is supported by Business Finland’s Low Carbon Built Environment Program, which receives funding from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility.

Solving Construction’s Long-Lasting Challenges

ACTOR’s concentration on project coordination is well-grounded. Construction projects have become very complex, but the methods and tools used to manage the complexity are outdated. Only recently have construction companies started to digitalize their processes and apply lean production methodologies.

Because of deficient coordination between the dozens or hundreds of companies involved in a construction project, worker productivity is poor. Aalto’s research has shown that—at best—only 30% of site worker activities add value. Even the latest digital solutions have made no noticeable difference, as they seldom aid field workers.

Problems on site are magnified at the macro level. The construction industry’s labor productivity growth has averaged only one percent annually over the past two decades. Over the same period, manufacturing productivity has increased by 3.6 percent annually.

Poorly coordinated projects typically run over schedule. As a result, they produce more wasted material and consume more energy than necessary. On average, 13% of products delivered to construction sites go directly to the landfill, and 32% of landfill waste comes from the construction and demolition of buildings. The construction industry accounts for 38% of all CO2 emissions.

Real-Time Situational Awareness as the Solution

ACTOR’s premise is that real-time situational awareness is the key to solving many construction problems. Situational awareness exists when every participant in a project has a real-time picture of all the tasks, conditions, and resources. A trustworthy situation picture is a prerequisite for effective planning, task management, and logistics.

A construction project produces an immense amount of data. But much of the data management and analysis work is manual, making the provision of situational awareness difficult or impossible.

ACTOR envisions a future where the obtaining and distributing of this information is automatic. Every project participant, from designers to field workers, has the correct information at their disposal, at the right time and in an easy-to-use visual form.

The project is researching and developing robotics, sensors, AI, machine learning, extended reality, and standardized data to enable that. The level of automation and sophistication that ACTOR pursues is in a class of its own. For example, Boston Dynamics’ Spot robots will collect as-built data and install sensors on construction sites autonomously.

The Consortium Has Unique Capabilities

The consortium members have unique capabilities. They have all undertaken research and development in situational awareness, visual management, and AI methods.

Aalto University has researched situational awareness in previous projects, and gained valuable insight into construction productivity. In ACTOR, Aalto is leading the research into automated data collection, standardized data representation, improved situational awareness, and the digital twins of buildings and processes.

VTT is helping to analyze work and workers’ information needs. It is also studying visual management’s spatial computing and user interfaces. Carinafour is exploring ways to collect and distribute supply chain and construction material information. Flow Technologies’ objective in ACTOR is to develop the digital twin of construction.

Trimble Solutions Oy is concentrating on technology to interpret the automatically collected situation picture data and quickly present it for decision-making. Kone is providing elevator and other technologies that collect construction site data.

Scaling Up Locally and Globally

When situational awareness is applied to a carefully planned and organized project, a construction worker’s productive time will double. When projects are well-managed, customers save money and construction becomes more profitable. The increased output and productivity can add two to three billion euro to Finland’s GDP, ACTOR believes.

The environmental benefits of ACTOR are not to be ignored, either. With good planning and coordination, up to one-third of construction waste can be avoided. Projects that stay on course also consume less energy than average projects.

To ensure that ACTOR’s solutions are scalable at a global level, the consortium is collaborating with international partners. They include the University of Alberta, Technion Israel Institute of Technology, TU Darmstadt, the University of Huddersfield, Aston University, and EU projects ASHVIN and BIM2TWIN.

ACTOR’s aims are high, but realistic. When the results are implemented, the benefits to the industry and to society at large could be immense.

You can learn more about the project and follow its newsfeed at actor.construction.

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Automatic Coordination of Construction Actors (ACTOR)

ACTOR is a Finnish R&D project aimed at increasing the productivity of construction and decrease its carbon emissions through process automation.

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