Artificial intelligence could help make construction more inclusive

November 4, 2022

By Sarah Small

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Teleoperation — using artificial intelligence and robots to conduct work remotely — in construction could increase worker safety, improve performance, reduce obstacles and make for a more inclusive environment, according to Yuqing Hu, assistant professor of architectural engineering at Penn State.

Currently, women and other underrepresented populations make up about 10% of the workforce in construction, but with automation and teleoperation increasing in construction, there may be new opportunities to make construction work more accessible across genders. Hu will lead a team to investigate these opportunities with a three-year, $559,757 National Science Foundation grant.  

“Dr. Hu’s research is very forward-looking,” said Sez Atamturktur Russcher, Harry and Arlene Schell Professor and department head of the Department of Architectural Engineering. “The construction industry will be heavily impacted from these global trends, and Dr. Hu’s team is proactively preparing us for the changing form of business.” 

The researchers plan to develop a robotic teleoperation system for construction workers and a blockchain-based platform that uses artificial intelligence to mitigate potential biases to fairly assess workers’ skill and performance to ensure equitable recruitment and retention. They will then develop a scalable framework for assessing issues such as the impacts of teleoperation on gender diversity and equity and develop a virtual reality-based inclusive workforce training system to advance construction worker career development.

“If successful, the developed technology ecosystem will help improve worker productivity, safety and health and equip the U.S. workers to lead the way in the construction industry reform in a gender-inclusive manner,” Hu said.

Other team members include co-principal investigators Scarlett Miller, professor of engineering design, mechanical engineering and industrial and manufacturing engineering at Penn State who is also affiliated with the College of Medicine and is the director of the Center for Research in Design and Innovation, and Robin Redmon Wright, associate professor of lifelong learning and adult education at the School of Behavioral Sciences and Education at Penn State Harrisburg.


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