Chip manufacturer Nvidia has moved into the construction industry, signing a deal with Japanese mining and construction multinational, Komatsu.

The partnership will focus on Komatsu using Nvidia GPUs to visualise and analyse entire construction sites. The Nvidia Jetson AI platform will serve as the brain of heavy machinery deployed on these sites, enabling improved safety and productivity.

The Komatsu partnership in the construction follows a series of moves into other industries for Nvidia. They have also partnered with GE Healthcare and Nuance in the area of medical imaging; FANUC in the field of robotics; and more than 225 car makers, startups and research houses – among them, Audi, Tesla, Toyota and Volvo – for autonomous driving.

“Artificial intelligence is sweeping across industries, and its next frontier is autonomous intelligent machines,” said Nvidia founder and CEO Jensen Huang.

“Future machines will perceive their surroundings and be continuously alert, helping operators work more efficiently and safely. The construction and mining industries will benefit greatly from these advances.”

At the centre of the collaboration is Nvidia Jetson, a credit-card sized platform that delivers AI computing at the edge. Working in tandem with Nvidia cloud technology, Jetson will power cameras mounted on Komatsu’s construction equipment and enable 360-degree views to readily identify people and machines nearby to prevent collisions and other accidents.

Jetson will also be used in stereo cameras located in the cabs of construction machines to help assess rapidly changing conditions in real time and instruct the driver accordingly. Future applications include high-resolution rendering and virtual simulations of construction and mining sites along with automated control of machinery.

Industry Prime for AI

Safety risks and inefficiencies in the construction industry make it particularly well suited for improvements powered by AI.

Construction sites are generally considered among the more dangerous workplaces because of the presence of heavy equipment, uneven terrain and continuous activity. Last year, sites in Japan alone recorded some 300 deaths and more than 15,000 injuries, according to the Japan Construction Occupational Safety and Health Association.

And Japan’s construction industry is particularly challenged because of the nation’s severe labor shortage due to an ageing population. Of the 3.4 million skilled workers in the domestic industry (as of 2014), roughly 1.1 million, or one-third, are likely to leave in the next decade, according to the Japan Federation of Construction Contractors.

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