“Complicated ballet”: Skanska to test AI for orchestrating site machinery

Skanska has teamed up with Volvo Construction Equipment, a research organisation and a software company to use artificial intelligence (AI) to better coordinate the movement of heavy machinery on construction sites.

The company said that currently, excavators, loaders and haulers can waste up to 40% of their time idling while operators wait for their slot to work, and that optimising the deployment of machinery through AI would cut emissions, cost and boost productivity.

Instead of milling about in wasteful chaos, machines should work together in a "complicated ballet", the company said. The goal is to have every single construction machine knowing where the others are, what they are doing and the most optimal way to self-organise.

Half funded by the Norwegian government, the project will test algorithms on a live highway project in Norway between now and 2022.

The consortium, which includes research organisation SINTEF and construction software company Ditio – which Skanska partly owns – will use equipment operating data to manage machinery automatically on sites with machine learning, route optimisation and AI.

If it works, the system would be marketed to the global industry.

"The number of simultaneous operations in a large civil engineering project is very comprehensive and complex, so this project will give the construction managers solid real-time decision support," said Lars Horn, project leader with Skanska Norway.

"Once the algorithms can handle the simple tasks, supervisors will have more time available to use their skills to solve the most demanding bottlenecks."

Tech firm Ditio already developed the software Skanska uses in Norway to log data about construction equipment operations, including where and when the machines operate.

Scientists from SINTEF Digital will use this large data repository to develop machine optimisation algorithms on the live highway project.

Currently, site machinery is coordinated by supervisors with walkie talkies. The research will incorporate their practices into the algorithms.

According to Skanska, Norway spends $11.15bn (NOK 100 billion) a year on road construction, with about 70% of that expenditure linked to fuel, personnel and the operation of machinery.

"We will cut emissions, but we will also build roads faster and cheaper. If this goes as planned you will be able to see the impact on the state budget," said Randi Lekanger, head of environment at Skanska Norway.

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