Machine learning is continuing to improve, and it is starting to become more common in many job industries, including engineering. Civil engineers use machine learning to simplify their work and leave some tasks to the machines while focusing on other tasks. So how is machine learning used in civil engineering?
Machine learning is used in civil engineering to improve the speed at which structures are designed and to increase the design possibilities. It also helps keep projects and worksites safe, and it makes project management more efficient, instead of relying on humans to track and manage them.
This article explains what machine learning and civil engineering are; plus, we provide some videos you can use to learn even more about them. Then, we explain the three major uses of machine learning in civil engineering today and how these uses help improve the way the civil engineering field and jobs function.
What Is Machine Learning?
Many people use artificial intelligence and machine learning, also called AI, interchangeably, but they are actually different. So what is machine learning?
Machine learning is a part of AI that focuses on teaching machines to learn and process information as humans do. By using data and algorithms, machine learning can teach itself and learn from its mistakes, and it will continue to improve its learning and knowledge over time.
As the data in our world continues to grow, we need to process and organize it. Machine learning makes this possible since it can store and analyze significantly more data than humans.
Machine learning works when these machines are given data, and the machines process the data. Over time, they continue to learn from the data they are processing, and it improves the outputs from these machines.
Machine learning takes time. The systems need time to process the data and learn from it. As time goes on, machine learning improves what it knows and gets faster. As machine learning gets better at what it does, there are more possibilities for what we can use it for in our world.
Ways Machines Learn
There are three ways in which machine learning learns and improves:
- Supervised learning: When machine learning systems are given specific data and algorithms to process, they will learn certain skills based on those algorithms. This way of learning is most common when machine learning is being used in a specific field or for a specific job, such as civil engineering.
- Unsupervised learning: Here, the machine teaches itself. All you need to do is give the machine some data to process, and it will analyze the data on its own. It will find patterns, outliers, and anything else that it can be based on the algorithms it knows. As it processes more data, it will continue to learn more.
- Reinforcement learning: With this type of learning, the machines constantly repeat a task, such as analysis, playing a game, or even driving a car. The machine will make decisions based on these tasks, and it’s rewarded when it makes the right decision. As it continues to choose correctly and be rewarded, it learns what is right and wrong.
Unsupervised learning is more common when there’s no specific goal or task for the machine to do, and the engineers just want to see what the machine will figure out. Reinforcement learning is best when the machine has a lot of data, and it needs to try different actions with the data to determine what is right and what is wrong.
Learn More About Machine Learning
Machine learning can be confusing, but you need to understand how it works if you want to understand how people can use it to improve civil engineering. Here are a few videos you can watch to learn more:
- This video from Simplilearn on YouTube explains what machine learning is and all the basic information you need to know to understand it:
- This other YouTube video from Google Cloud Tech explains how machine learning works and the steps it takes to make machine learning work:
What do Civil Engineers do?
Now that we have a better understanding of machine learning let’s dive into civil engineering and learn more about it.
Civil engineering is the area of engineering that focuses on building and structures. While civil engineers can work in various industries, they are most commonly found in design and construction. Civil engineers focus on how to make structures safe and efficient.
They often design the structures they create or work with architects and construction workers to complete a project. Sometimes civil engineers also work with clients to decide how they should build something and how to incorporate what a client needs and wants into their design.
Civil engineers are the people who make houses, buildings, and cities possible. There are also a lot of civil engineers who focus on transportation. So anytime you use a road, a bridge, or even a public transportation system, you can thank civil engineering.
Civil engineers work on job sites where their structures are being built, and they work in offices to design and create structures. They are also always thinking of ways to improve what they are building and how new technology and innovations, like machine learning, can help them.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, civil engineers need a bachelor’s degree to get a job; then, there are licenses they can get to move up in their field.
If you want to learn more about civil engineering and what civil engineers do, check out these YouTube videos:
- This video from Explorist explains what civil engineering is and why we need civil engineering to keep our society running.
- This video from Kienen Koga explains what civil engineers actually do, what a day in the life of one looks like, and a couple of specific jobs a civil engineer can have.
The Uses of Machine Learning in Civil Engineering
Machine learning is being used in civil engineering for a variety of purposes. While the number of uses and the capabilities of machine learning will only increase over time, here are the three ways machine learning is being used in civil engineering today.
Designing buildings, roads, tunnels, and other structures is a huge part of civil engineering. With machine learning, engineers can expedite the design process.
Instead of having the engineers do all the designs on their computers, they can just input the specifications into their computer. The machine learning system will take care of the rest of the design process. While this is currently not a slow process because civil engineers do use technology to help them, the process could go even faster with machine learning.
Furthermore, there will be new options for designs when machine learning is involved. Since the creation of designs goes faster, the machines can create more designs for the same project, which gives the engineers more options and can lead to more innovation in their projects. The civil engineers can then spend their time looking over the designs and deciding which ones are best.
These machines can complete designs for more projects faster than before. Instead of having an engineer spend all their time designing for one project, machine learning allows more designs to be created in that same amount of time, meaning the engineers can complete more projects.
While the machines are busy creating designs, the civil engineers can focus on other jobs that machines cannot do, like working out in the field or having meetings with their clients.
Finally, as civil engineers start using it and machine learning improves, they will be able to take feedback from the engineers and implement it in future designs. So, if something works really well on a few projects, the machine will try to use it in even more projects. And the same is true for things that do not work and cause issues. Machine learning will continue to improve the designs that it creates for civil engineers.
Safety is a huge part of civil engineering. Not only do the structures that civil engineers are building and designing need to be safe, but so do all the workers on those projects.
All the civil engineers who go to job sites, and anyone else who goes to one, need to be trained in the safety rules and regulations. Without these precautions, safety would be an issue. However, civil engineers and site managers are always on the lookout for any safety threats that may come up in their projects, whether it be from a design flaw or something that arises during the construction.
The engineers are diligent, and safety is always a top priority. However, everyone makes mistakes or misses important information once in a while, including civil engineers. Unfortunately, that means that sometimes issues that pose a safety risk are missed, which can cause big issues.
However, machine learning is so efficient and detailed that nothing would be overlooked. Machines can even check projects, designs, and worksite information repeatedly to ensure nothing risky is happening and there are no safety threats. They can also track everyone’s safety classes and certifications to ensure that the employees on each project have the proper safety knowledge.
If anyone does have safety threats that they keep causing, the machine learning system can alert the managers and let them know that someone keeps breaking safety protocols. With a system doing this, civil engineer site managers can eliminate safety risks immediately instead of waiting for a civil engineer to track safety habits and realize something is going wrong.
Finally, all equipment usage can be tracked so that nothing too old or without a safety certificate can be used on sites.
Another way machine learning is great to use in civil engineering is to manage all the projects going on. The machine learning system can track the workers, site progress, or the equipment and inventory on each site.
The machine learning system can track all the people and progress on each project. Using the system, workers can track what site they are on, what tasks they are working on for the day, and how much time is spent on each site.
With everything being tracked in one system, the machines and engineers can monitor the progress on each job, and the machine can flag any delays or other issues right away. Additionally, machine learning can generate any type of report to help managers compare projects.
Furthermore, engineers can also track all the equipment and materials on job sites with machine learning. All the machines, tools, and anything else on a job site needs to be tagged somehow, like with a smart tag. Once the tags have been connected to the machine learning system, it can keep track of everything. It will have an inventory count, and if anything goes missing or is stolen, the machine learning system can track it.
Without machine learning, a site manager would have to take inventory and keep track of all the tools and materials on the job site and manually log them every day or week. With manual tracking, the inventory counts will not be as accurate, and it may take some time to realize that something is missing or the items on the site are short compared to what is needed to complete the job.
Machine learning is a growing innovation, and it will only help more as it continues to improve over time. There will be more uses for it in the civil engineering industry in addition to the current uses, including safety mitigation, design improvement, and project management.
Utilizing technology like machine learning in the civil engineering industry frees up engineers to focus on fieldwork and creativity. In contrast, the machines can undertake longer and more complex tasks for the engineers.
- Modern Contractor Solutions Magazine: How Is Machine Learning Changing Civil Engineering?
- MIT Sloan: Machine learning, explained
- IBM: Machine Learning
- ResearchGate: Machine Learning Techniques for Civil Engineering Problems
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook – Civil Engineers
- Columbia University: What Is Civil Engineering?