Building A Better Future with Edge Computing

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Source | CCR Mag

Millions of new Internet-connected devices commonly referred to collectively as the Internet of Things (IoT) have been developed over the past few decades. These devices, including sensors, actuators, smartphones, gateways, hubs, edge nodes, robots and more are connected to the Internet via edge networks. These networks are now evolving through the addition of integrated processing capabilities to facilitate smart, automated, secure, and sustainable environments and working processes across a variety of industrial sectors.

The construction industry is emerging as a strong beneficiary of this shift towards edge computing.

Construction processes are very complex and can benefit from significant automation. Smart systems in this industry must be designed with a high degree of security and dependability in order to be trusted to improve safety and business-critical operations.

Measures of system dependability include high Quality of Service (QoS), fault-tolerance with self-healing and self-organizing capabilities, clear and easy-to-use management interfaces, multi-WAN and LAN connectivity with failover mechanisms, and high levels maintainability – and must be fully capable across a wide range of harsh construction environments.

This is where the edge comes into play.

Smart applications that can run on edge networks open many possibilities. Construction site automation, robot-assisted construction processes, safety monitoring, traffic pattern flow optimization, materials management, equipment tracking and availability management, and process automation can all help bring a myriad of benefits to the construction site.

Edge networks with integrated computing efficiently address the tremendous amount of data that can be generated and consumed on a construction site, without relying on large data pipes to move all that data to and from the cloud. The more data that can be processed and leveraged locally, the faster decisions can be made, the less reliant the site is on high bandwidth connections to the internet and the cloud, and the less money is needed to pay for moving all that data. This is especially true if the site is using camera-based vision systems which can generate enormous amounts of data.

IoT, Industrial IoT (IIoT), automated control systems and the applications that support them all require a high degree of cybersecurity, micro-transaction processing, and other innovations which are driving a massive shift toward complementing cloud computing with more localized processing within the local edge network.

Safer Construction Sites

Perhaps the most important edge-computing application for construction is site safety improvement. While construction workers made up only 6% of the US labor force in 2019, 20% of worker deaths were in the construction industry. [1]

Opportunities for improvement abound, from ensuring that safety procedures are being followed, to gaining more data about the root causes of accidents, to leveraging IP-enabled wearables – like smart watches – that can track and provide constant information about worker wellness on the work site. Privacy issues must of course be considered and addressed, and the right balance must be found; but the ability to predict health issues that can affect proper control of heavy equipment or materials, and prevent catastrophic outcomes presents a significant opportunity.

The right systems can trigger worker alerts as they approach dangerous/hazardous zones, notify them of any sudden changes in the surrounding environment, and warn managers when monitored conditions stray into the “red zone”.  It is a true win-win for both workers and the construction companies that employ them.

A monitoring and early warning system running on an edge platform as part of the site’s local network, capable of collecting enormous amounts of sensory data in real-time and applying machine learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies to extract knowledge and support rapid decision-making, enables construction site teams to stay on top of potential safety hazards and site risks. And with the data that is collected, safety procedures at “smart construction” sites can be continuously improved, resulting in an increasing ability to prevent human injury, property damage or other disasters, not to mention decreasing costs.

Edge computing-empowered construction sites support real-time monitoring of construction assets and resources, and can be designed to operate autonomously, minimizing the risk of mission critical monitoring and operations being affected due to loss of connectivity to cloud services. And they can reduce the risk of operating hazardous machinery by supporting local, autonomous, highly responsive control of robotic systems for particularly high-risk tasks.

More Security and Scalability

Beyond safety benefits for workers, edge-computing enabled networks also provide greater protection against cyber threats, for one simple reason; when the data is collected and processed locally, it never goes across the Internet, eliminating Internet-associated data exposure and attack possibilities. As long as the edge platform is designed with security in mind – from how access is controlled to how applications are managed, loaded, and executed – the attack surface and available methods that hackers can exploit are significantly diminished.

With the appropriate edge platform selection, highly flexible and scalable solutions can quickly be deployed, re-deployed, and re-sized as the needs of the site change. Given the dynamic environment of the worksite, it is not feasible to run cabling everywhere an access point or new sensor is required. Advanced edge computing platforms avoid the cabling issues by leveraging innovative wireless mesh technologies and centralized management, configuration, and control of the edge network through remote tools. Wireless mesh technologies are a real game-changer in these applications, saving time and money and making resilient, highly reliable solutions possible.

Edge computing-driven data gathering and processing can also help construction companies simplify their regulatory compliance activities.

Organizations are embracing edge computing technology because it can enhance system application responsiveness, reduce cloud-associated bandwidth and processing costs, improve security, and allow for autonomous, Internet-free operations. With the right edge platform and software applications that focus on the unique needs of construction sites and the businesses that manage them, significant improvements in safety, security, and cost management can be gained.