Building the Future: How AI and Robotics (Drones) Can Make a Difference in Future Construction and Built Environment

Yu Hou, PhD

Assistant Professor,

Construction Engineering Department,

Western New England University

Friday, March 8, 2024 | 11 a.m. | 140 Ketter Hall


Yu Hou.

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and related technologies such as high-resolution cameras, LiDAR sensors, and thermal imaging are revolutionizing the traditional built environment. Their diverse applications have contributed to energy audits, building and infrastructure inspection, and extreme event preparedness and response. However, drone applications in construction still meet challenges. First, when using drones to inspect building envelopes, the balance between accuracy and efficiency requires an optimized flight path design. Also, drone operators must have proficient flying experiences, experience multitasking, remember observation sequences, and optimize inspection paths based on their skill sets. The second challenge is related to aerial image processing. Researchers have been investigating efficient computer vision algorithms to detect defects (cracks, efflorescence, spalling, etc.) from RGB images and inspect building energy performance (heat loss, moisture, thermal bridges, etc.) from thermal images. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been playing a critical role in object detection and segmentation. Third, the concerns about whether automation and robotics will replace human labor, leading to job losses within the construction industry, and the socioeconomic consequences have attracted researchers' attention. Therefore, researchers not only discuss the power of AI but also investigate human factors.

This talk will discuss how drones allow researchers to better understand the built environment, especially building envelopes and energy performance, and how humans will interact with robotics (drones) and build partnerships with new technologies in future built environments. Dr. Hou will present his previous work on thermographic 3D modeling technologies, thermal image processing, and building system diagnosis. He will also present his current and future research efforts on workforce training using virtual reality (VR) to build human and drone partnerships.


After obtaining his master's degrees from the Computer Science Department and PhD from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department of the University of Southern California (USC), Yu Hou worked as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). In 2021, he joined Western New England University (WNE), as an assistant professor in the Construction Engineering Department. Yu Hou’s research interests include Building Information Modeling (BIM), Digital Twins, Building energy performance and audits, Unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), Computer Vision in construction, and construction workforce training with eXtended Reality (XR). He has published 8 peer-reviewed journal papers, 12 conference papers, and 2 open-source datasets. His research topics are aligned with the National Science Foundation (Workforce Equity, STEM education, and Cyber-Physical Systems), the Naval Engineering Education Consortium (NEEC), and the Department of Energy (DOE). For professional service, he is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA). He also joined the ASCE Computing Division Education Committee, contributing to construction engineering and management education. Back in 2020, he received the Outstanding Teaching Award from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department of USC. He is currently the faculty advisor of the CMAA-WNE student chapter.