Technologies to keep an eye on in 2016

Another holiday season has come and gone, and still I am without my jetpack. Growing up, I remember thinking that I was living in exciting times because surely by the time the year 2000 rolled around, we would all be flying to and fro with our personal jetpack units strapped to our backs, fueled with 40-cent-per-gallon gas from the Esso station (yes, I’m that old). Well, I’ve given it 16 years and I’m beginning to think I’ll see 40-cent gas before I get to fly to work.

Despite this obvious oversight by those who develop new technologies, you’d have to agree that the world we live in is changing as a result of technology. And most people agree that the changes are coming at us faster than ever. A mere 6 years ago, the iPad wasn’t on the market. Think back 10 years and try to remember the mobile phone you were using. Sometimes, I miss my old Motorola Razr flip phone.

With things changing so quickly, it’s tricky business predicting which technologies will become ubiquitous parts of our lives and which will, in retrospect, become quaint ideas (yes, I bought a laser disc player). One rule of thumb is to ask if the tech makes things, either work or play, significantly easier, more accessible, and/or less expensive—where expense can be measured in money or time. If the answer is yes, invest. Or, at least pay attention. Below are a few technologies I believe the construction industry should pay attention to this coming year.

How Would You Like Your Reality?
In just a few years, we’ve come a long way from the less-than-world-changing first generation of Google Glass. Today, Augmented Reality (AR) is emerging from the lab and finding its way onto the jobsites of some early-adopting contractors. Imagine working as a service technician, looking at an HVAC unit, then pulling a visor down on your Internet-connected hardhat and seeing all the specs, the parts list, the repair history and the preventive maintenance schedule for that unit. Or, as a project manager onsite who can look at construction in-place through the camera on your tablet and visualize the completed work completed against the virtual model of the final completed structure. These and other construction-related “killer AR apps” are already well defined, and AR technology is being funded to the tune of billions by a number of the world’s largest corporations.

Does This Technology Go with My Shoes?
Not all wearable technology need be reality-altering eyewear. There are a number of applications for wearable tech that have less to do with giving the user information and more to do with gathering information from the user with the best of intentions, namely, health and safety. There is little any us wouldn’t pay to prevent one jobsite injury or death, yet, we may soon have a price tag to ponder as a number of companies are in the process of bringing to market wearable gear to protect our workers. Included in this new fashion catalogue are smart hardhats, safety vests with vital-sign monitoring, and even shirt collars that can sense the acceleration of a fall and self-inflate to protect the wearer’s neck (also useful at the company Christmas party).

Unscrambling the Data Egg
Drones, smart phone apps, equipment telematics, even employee PPE—the amount of digital data capable of pouring into a contractor’s business from more and more sources continues to accelerate with no braking visible on the horizon. As a contractor, you may wonder just what you’re going to do with all this data. As a software developer, I have a deceptively simple answer: The same things you’re already doing. Just smarter and faster, provided we software providers do our job: Turning the potential chaos of data overload into real actionable information.

Doing this in a world where data sources are flying robots instead of desktop computers means a new generation of construction software. Of the many changes taking place in software, two stand out as being especially worth noting and worth looking for when you look for a future-ready system: integration and intelligence.

Next-generation software systems must be designed with the flexibility to accept large amounts of data from sources we cannot even yet imagine and then distribute this information among intelligent applications that put it into context. Legacy systems that were designed for the world of the desktop will only be able to keep up for so long in this environment. Look for more developers to take advantage of the data accessibility provided by cloud computing and to put a premium on delivering you more powerful and intelligent business information tools to make sense of it all.

Now if you’ll forgive me, I need to wrap it up and ask Alexa on my Amazon Echo to remind Siri on my iPhone to turn on my car tomorrow at 7 a.m. sharp so it’s warm when I hop in. Because I still have to drive—no darn jetpack.

P.S.—A shout out is due to my friend, colleague and fellow Aggie, James Benham of JB Knowledge who inspired much of the above. Take a minute and enjoy his blog at jamesbenham.com