Understanding the Role of AI in Structural Inspection

Nadine Graß
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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is making major advances in adoption regardless of industry, helping businesses to improve on their execution and their offering. So, what can AI deliver when it comes to structural inspection and how come we are suddenly seeing these terms being used together?

Defining the New AI Playing Field

Understanding the terms we employ is crucial. So, let’s zoom out for a minute and make sure we are on the same page. What do we mean by AI? What don’t we mean? And what can we expect from processes and products that employ AI, especially in the field of structural inspections?

First things first. AI and Machine Learning (ML) are not the same thing. When we employ the term AI, we are referring to the capability of a machine to simulate human thinking capability as well as human behaviors. ML, on the other hand, is a subset of AI, that began to evolve later ML relates to the training of data over time to improve pattern recognition by machines or computers. ML allows for the processing of vast volumes of data that allow for ML-based processes to learn from data and improve processes autonomously over time – while also making predictions based on historical data. So, while AI would be employed to create an intelligent system to solve complex problems, ML-based processes help machines learn from data to improve the accuracy of outputs.

Finally, Deep Learning (DL) is a subfield of Machine Learning that utilizes deep neural networks (deep because the neural network architecture is comprised of multiple layers). This enables the detection and learning of patters in very large data sets to perform advanced tasks such as voice assistance, driving unmanned vehicles or correctly identifying objects within images. The complexity of neural networks enables DL models to be able to solve more complex tasks, which ML models not solve.

How is AI Impacting Industries Worldwide?

AI has made inroads across countless sectors by now. From logistics and e-commerce to healthcare, robotics and autonomous vehicles, AI is already deeply embedded in our daily lives. AI boosts efficiency and accuracy by automating processes, completing a larger number of tasks in the same time period as humans – and through 24/7 availability.

AI-driven solutions are helping companies save costs and increase profitability. New consumer behavior is demanding speeds and processes that could not cope without AI. At the same time, AI has the capacity to introduce stability into systems and processes through improved forecasting and recommendations.

The cost-savings potential is vast as this overview of cost decreases from adopting AI in organizations worldwide, as of the fiscal year 2019, shows across various business functions.

On the one hand, expectations run high at the thought of employing the kind of next-level processing and automation promised by AI. On the other hand, it seems even artificial roses have their thorns and the threat of artificial intelligence to replace human labor – or potentially begin outsmarting creative human thinking – is widespread. This thinking tends to be somewhat unfounded – or at least undifferentiated – especially when it comes to structural inspections. To mitigate these concerns, the role that trust plays in AI deployment cannot be overstated. Addressing some of these issues by fostering trustworthiness in AI is indispensable.

To learn more on AI and trustworthiness, you can navigate to our blog entry on this here.

What Is the Benefit of Employing AI for Structural Inspections?

Fast and Accurate Learning

Imagine if you, as a structural engineer, could receive a suggestion of a relevant selection of damages of any given structure. A task like this is easily – and accurately – completed with the use of AI. By working with thousands of images, a neural network can be trained to assess and prioritize features to understand critical and non-critical defects in structures. Different types of damage can be detected using pixel-based methods to create the correct shape.

Fast and Accurate Assessment

Only being able to capture the shape of a certain type of damage would not yet suffice to significantly improve workflow efficiency for structural inspections. AI will need to go a step further and identify all relevant damages while offering the possibility to focus on the ones deemed critical. In other words, AI can assess and categorize a vast selection of data and serve up a suggestion of what matters most based on pre-selected criteria. In addition, digital inspection technology has the capability to reveal defects that are barely visible to the naked eye.

Fast and Accurate Assistance

That is not to say that AI is here to replace the work done by humans. AI is best employed in the service of humans – and the businesses they operate. AI can help to carry out many of the unpopular tasks that are a necessary part of the work of structural engineering. As a structural engineer, you will be able to harness capabilities fueled by AI that will make the outcome of your work more detailed, and of higher quality.

AI will not launch a complete takeover of your structural engineering project, of course. Instead, think of AI as the perfect companion to provide all the inputs you need to be able to employ your expertise and knowledge that will remove none of the ownership of your job. Much like AI itself, the output of human work also requires solid data quality as an input. AI helps to provide solid data quality to ensure that the work you put out is as good as it can be.

So, while you can add automated damage detection to the workflows in your structural inspection projects, it’s clear that your work will never be reduced to that. Putting AI to work in ways that add the most value will still be down to you, our fellow human.  

Curious to see how AI-assisted inspection looks in action?

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