Construction tech startups are poised to shake up a $1.3-trillion-dollar industry

 Rebar Construction

Rebar is laid before poring a cement slab for an apartment in San Francisco CA.

In the wake of COVID-19 this spring, construction sites across the nation emptied out alongside neighboring restaurants, retail stores, offices and other commercial establishments. Debates ensued over whether the construction industry’s seven million employees should be considered “essential,” while regulations continued to shift on the operation of job sites. Meanwhile, project demand steadily shrank.

Amidst the chaos, construction firms faced an existential question: How will they survive? This question is as relevant today as it was in April. As one of the least-digitized sectors of our economy, construction is ripe for technology disruption.

Construction is a massive, $1.3 trillion industry in the United States — a complex ecosystem of lenders, owners, developers, architects, general contractors, subcontractors and more. While each construction project has a combination of these key roles, the construction process itself is highly variable depending on the asset type. Roughly 41% of domestic construction value is in residential property, 25% in commercial property and 34% in industrial projects. Because each asset type, and even subassets within these classes, tends to involve a different set of stakeholders and processes, most construction firms specialize in one or a few asset groups.

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India is in the middle of a much-needed start-up revolution

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India now has 38,756 officially-recognised start-ups –– with 27 unicorns, eight of which achieved this status in 2020 –– and is the third-largest tech start-up hub globally.

Entrepreneurs today are utilising the unprecedented advances from technology, operating on the demands of our demography, and inadvertently steering citizen welfare.

Five years since Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Start-Up India initiative, we are witnessing a golden chapter in the history of Indian entrepreneurship.

India now has 38,756 officially-recognised start-ups –– with 27 unicorns, eight of which achieved this status in 2020 –– and is the third-largest tech start-up hub globally.

According to Praxis Global Alliance, start-ups are growing at an average rate of 12–15% annually. Start-ups have raised $63 billion between 2016–20 in funding, $20 billion of which was raised in 2019 over 1,854 deals. Investments in start-ups are growing incrementally each year ($12 billion, $25.2 billion, $26.3 billion, and $34 billion invested in the last four years, respectively), with $16.7 billion till May 2020. Start-Up India kickstarted an entrepreneurship revolution. Several policy interventions were since announced, giving the entrepreneurial ecosystem a much-needed launchpad. The overhaul of the digital payments ecosystem is being led by State innovation, with Aadhaar, Jan Dhan, UPI, and India Stack. The Atal Innovation Mission, Niti Aayog, has built an ecosystem of 8,800 tinkering labs, 4,000 mentors and over two-and-a-half million students, and acted as a conduit for over 3,500 innovations while supporting 1,500 start-ups.

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Chinese Tesla rival Xpeng steers clear of robotaxis, says self-driving trucks more likely to succeed

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Xpeng’s autopilot system Xpilot 3.0 is expected to be included in its P7 smart sedan in early 2021. Photo: HandoutXpeng’s autopilot system Xpilot 3.0 is expected to be included in its P7 smart sedan in early 2021.

It is difficult for self-driving systems to replace human drivers, especially in densely populated cities, Xpeng’s head of autonomous driving says

Self-driving long-haul trucks and robots handling last-mile deliveries are more likely to be successfully automated, according to Xinzhou Wu

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Sam’s Club will deploy autonomous floor-scrubbing robots in all of its US locations

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The past six months have seen a fairly aggressive acceleration in the option of robotics and automation as companies look for ways to augment (and, likely, replace in some instances) human workers. The appeal is certainly clear during massive pandemic-fueled shutdowns.

Sam’s Club has been into robotic floor cleaning for a bit longer, having already deployed Tennant’s T7AMR scrubbers in a number of locations. But this week the Walmart -owned bulk retailer announced that it’s adding another 372 this year, bringing the technology to all of its 599 U.S. stores.

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The ‘failure’ of big data

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In a May 2011 special research report, Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity, the management consulting firm McKinsey put forth the case that “Big data will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus.” The McKinsey report went on to note that, “The amount of data in our world has been exploding. Leaders in every sector will have to grapple with the implications of big data, not just a few data-oriented managers. The increasing volume and detail of information captured by enterprises, the rise of multimedia, social media, and the Internet of Things will fuel exponential growth in data for the foreseeable future.”

General usage of the term “Big Data” can be traced to the McKinsey report and similar reports from IBM that ensued around this time. The McKinsey report was prescient in its observations that “Leaders in every sector will have to grapple with the implications of big data, not just a few data-oriented managers.” In retrospect, this was the key insight. From this point forward, interest in data would no longer be limited to the purview of “a few data-oriented managers,” but rather would become the purview of “leaders in every sector.” The McKinsey report went on to describe the advent of the era of Big Data as heralding “new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus.” The report contained one important caveat however, noting that these advances were all predicated “as long as the right policies and enablers are in place.”

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Top tech trends for 2021: Gartner predicts hyperautomation, AI and more will dominate business technology

Top strategic technology trends for the enterprise

Operational resiliency is key as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change how companies will do business next year.

There are nine top strategic technology trends that businesses should plan for in 2021 as the pandemic continues, according to Gartner’s analysts. Their findings were presented on Monday at the virtual Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo Americas conference, which runs through Thursday.

Organizational plasticity is key to these trends. “When we talk about the strategic technology trends, we actually have them grouped into three different themes, which is people centricity, location independence, and resilient delivery,” said Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner. “What we’re talking about with the trends is how do you leverage technology to gain the organizational plasticity that you need to form and reform into whatever’s going to be required as we emerge from this pandemic?”

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Caterpillar bets on self-driving machines impervious to pandemics

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Jason Ramshaw, Commercial Manager for Caterpillar Construction Digital & Technology, demonstrates the Cat Command remote control console to operate a 320 excavator at Caterpillar’s Construction Industries

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Question: How can a company like Caterpillar CAT.N try to counter a slump in sales of bulldozers and trucks during a pandemic that has made every human a potential disease vector?

Answer: Cut out human operators, perhaps?

Caterpillar’s autonomous driving technology, which can be bolted on to existing machines, is helping the U.S. heavy equipment maker mitigate the heavy impact of the coronavirus crisis on sales of its traditional workhorses.

With both small and large customers looking to protect their operations from future disruptions, demand has surged for machines that don’t require human operators on board.

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Nasa is looking for private companies to help mine the moon

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Nasa has announced it is looking for private companies to go to the moon and collect dust and rocks from the surface and bring them back to Earth.

The agency announced it is buying lunar soil from a commercial provider as part of a technology development program,

The American space agency would then buy the moon samples in amounts between 50 to 500 grams for between $15,000 to $25,000.

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Working from home : The new ‘industrial’ revolution

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Several centuries ago Europe and the USA underwent the industrial revolution, a transformation of our manufacturing processes enabled by the development of new machinery to support repetitive assembly line tasks within large factories.

The revolution served to bind workforces to specific locations and rigid working hours, triggering a fundamental societal shift as countries saw mass population migration from rural areas to the cities. Post-revolution life would never be the same again.

The question is, with millions of people currently working from home and showing little appetite to return to the office, are we witnessing a new industrial revolution across the knowledge economy?

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How cruise lines are rethinking pretty much everything

With many ships poised to return, operators are making hundreds of changes to improve the safety of sailing.

Big-name cruise companies have been on pause since mid-March, after they voluntarily ceased operations a day before the CDC issued a “No Sail Order” for any ships carrying more than 250 passengers. In the months since, smaller ocean and river lines have developed new pandemic-era health and safety guidelines aimed at restoring traveler confidence in cruising.

And travelers are interested, says Rob Clabbers, president of Q Cruise & Travel in Chicago and a member of T+L’s Travel Advisory Board. “We have some clients who literally can’t wait to get back on a ship,” he explains. When they do eventually board, vacationers will find a new routine — at least in the near term.

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Amazon plans to invest $100 million to help small businesses attract sales on Prime Day

 

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Amazon Global Online Stores Net Sales

Amazon is investing $100 million to help small businesses attract sales on Prime Day and during the holidays,

This is a key moment for Amazon to recruit SMBs because of the coronavirus pandemic and a rise in competition.

The etailer is investing $100 million to help small businesses boost their sales and customer acquisition efforts for Prime Day, which may occur in October, and through the holiday season.

It’s also on pace to invest $18 billion to help independent businesses make sales through spending on logistics, services, and other areas. It intends to work with 500,000 US small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that sell on its marketplace over the next 12 months to offer them its ecommerce expertise and other forms of support, as Amazon appears to be making a push to appeal to SMB merchants.

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Volta Zero is an electric delivery truck built just for cities

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DPD will start using the EV to deliver parcels in London next year.

 Volta Trucks

A Swedish startup named Volta Trucks has unveiled its first vehicle: an electric truck designed specifically for city parcel and freight deliveries. The Volta Zero is scheduled to start production in the UK in 2022, and the company is aiming to have as many as 500 vehicles on the road by the end of that year. While it’s far from the first EV designed with parcel delivery in mind — Amazon plans to use electric vans from Rivian and Mercedes—Benz to deliver customers’ orders — Volta Trucks has forged significant partnerships that could give it a role in shaping the future of deliveries.

European delivery service DPD will launch a pilot test using the Volta Zero to service customers within London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone in the first quarter of 2021. The company also told Reuters that it has “well progressed with another seven or eight customers.”

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