Construction to get dedicated AI institute to solve industry problems

The University of Illinois plans to set up the "National Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Construction", after receiving grants from the US government’s National Science Foundation and the Discovery Partners Institute.

Described as a first-of-its-kind, the initiative sees a team of interdisciplinary scientists – including from Carnegie Mellon University – work with some 40 construction-industry partners to address problems with productivity and safety in the design, construction and operation of buildings and infrastructure.

Derek Hoiem, associate professor of Computer Science at Illinois and the new institute’s co-principal investigator, said a push was needed to make AI relevant to construction.

"Machine learning and AI are in the national spotlight because they can solve important problems," he said. "But the set of problems that can be solved is currently constrained by a need for huge quantities of annotated data, so domain-independent AI research tends to concentrate on topics where known methods will succeed. We believe applying AI methods to construction problems will produce a seismic shift in AI research."

David A. Forsyth, also co-principal investigator and computer science professor at Illinois, elaborated: "There is a compelling combination of complex problems in construction with open environments, multiple modalities and clear use-inspired objectives, where the solutions can be guided by carefully designed taxonomies and strong metrics for verifying success."

Project lead Mani Golparvar-Fard, associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign campus, said: "We believe our inter-disciplinary team together with the broader AI community can address the urgent productivity, safety and maintenance problems of the construction industry, and that doing so will drive foundational advances in AI that enable broader application across many other industries."

The institute will also deliver entrepreneurship education to bring construction AI solutions to market.

Said Golparvar-Fard: "The institute can serve as a foothold for integration of AI and the construction industries that currently have little interaction. We plan to use this opportunity to build consensus on the educational programs and compelling and well-defined research problems that will have the most impact on the construction industry and drive general advances in AI."

Image courtesy of the University of Illinois

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