Technology to Be Taught to Construction Workers Using $1 Million National Science Foundation Grant

A collaborative research team from The University of Texas at Austin Cockrell School of Engineering and School of Information has received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to teach construction professionals to incorporate cutting-edge technology into everyday tasks.

William O'Brien, assistant professor of civil engineering, Christine Julien, assistant professor of computer engineering, and Kathy Schmidt, director of the Cockrell School of Engineering's Faculty Innovation Center, are building on a previous small scale project that has demonstrated effective solutions to incorporating computing and sensing technologies into construction work sites. The team has demonstrated the use of education modules to speed adoption of what the industry calls "intelligent job site" (IJS) technology such as sensors, mobile computing and wireless networking to provide both localized and project-wide efficiencies.

The team plans to use this new federal grant to scale up their work into a unified learning environment easily copied and customized to local conditions. In this expanded effort, Randolph Bias, associate professor in the School of Information and director of the Information eXperience Lab, joins them to provide a systematic user-centered design component to the technology and training modules.

"Construction sites are unique, large and dynamic, with lots of worker choice of actions. This all makes effectively coordinating employees difficult," says O'Brien. "Complicating it further are the often low education levels of craft workers.

"Intelligent job site technologies promise great improvements, but considerable workforce development is needed to speed adoption of these technologies."

While the engineers will assure the project meets technical construction industry needs, Bias will confirm the program's relevance to its end users.

"All this wondrous technology is of no value if human beings can't figure out how to use it," Bias says. "The team will be conducting usability studies along the way to ensure that the technology is designed to fit the target audience."

The program promises a dramatic long-term increase in workforce skills by offering both a new method of teaching using innovative instructional technologies, as well as sustainable partnerships with industry and academia to educate the current and future workforce.