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An £18m investment in technologies ranging from augmented reality design tools to swarming robots that mimic the collaborative behaviour of termites could help transform UK construction, the UK’s main research funding body has claimed.
Made through funding body UKRI, and drawn from the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), the cash is being ploughed into a range of projects aimed at making construction more efficient, sustainable and productive.
A key £5m chunk of the investment, from UKRI’s new Research Leaders Program, has been targeted at four new research projects aimed at speeding up assembly, saving money, and improving the quality of UK building projects.
Amongst these are a Loughborough University led project that’s exploring the development of next generation Hybrid Concrete Printing (HCP) technology to produce near-net-shape building components. The group claims that HCP technology will enable the intelligent integration of building performance and energy production and storage technologies.
Another project – led by a team at UCL and involving partners including KUKA, Arup and Buro Happold – is exploring the use of swarms of robots to collectively design and build structures.
The two other collaborative research projects awarded a share of the £5m are the University of Bath led ACORN project (Automating Concrete Construction) which is looking at using digital tools to enable a more sustainable approach to concrete use, and a University of West England led initiative that’s exploring the use of AI and augmented reality to enable engineers to make more effective use of BIM software tools.
Alongside these projects, an addition £13.3m is to be invested in 24 separate collaborative initiatives to be delivered by Innovate UK
Projects awarded funding here include an effort to use artificial intelligence and algorithms to schedule construction projects; a Barratt homes led consortium aimed at bringing down the cost of off-site manufacturing; and HIPER Pile, which is developing new piling solutions to integrate energy and rainwater re-use when laying foundations.
Construction minister, Richard Harrington, said: “The use of Artificial Intelligence, digital techniques and off-site manufacturing, help us harness new methods of working. This delivers on the government’s Construction Sector Deal which pledges to build better performing buildings, using less energy and providing better value for taxpayers.”
Professor Sir Mark Walport, UKRI Chief Executive, added: “Through projects such as these, the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund allows us to catalyse innovation across the UK’s vital construction industry improving productivity, sustainability and safety.”