Tuesday, April 23, 2024

NSF awards funding to UTSA research making construction industry safer, more equitable

NSF awards funding to UTSA research making construction industry safer, more equitable

NOVEMBER 3, 2022 — Three faculty members in the Margie and Bill Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design (the Klesse College) were selected to receive funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for two separate, three-year projects.

The first, the Assembly and Robotics Innovation in Steel Building Erection (ARISE) program, is a multinational research and development initiative that is evaluating the use of robots to aid or lead the assembly process of steel structures, using robotic-prefabricated elements.

The second, the Future AI and Robotics for Women in Smart Engineering (FAIR4WISE) project, looks to improve gender-diversity in what will likely become an increasingly tech-driven construction industry. Forecasts suggest that roughly 49% of current construction jobs will be wholly automated or teleoperated by 2057.


“We are committed to solving grand challenges where humanity intersects with the physical world, be it down the street in San Antonio or around the globe.”



Arturo E. Schultz, director of the School of Civil & Environmental Engineering, and Construction Management, and Ibukun Awolusi, assistant professor of construction science and management, will serve as co-principal investigators on the ARISE project.

Jiannan Cai, assistant professor of construction science and management, will serve as the principal investigator on the FAIR4WISE project.

ARISE and FAIR4WISE were two of 14 projects selected to receive funding under the NSF’s Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier.

Researchers applying for the funding had to demonstrate to the NSF the potential to create new methods and technologies that will enhance public health and well-being, increase worker safety and open rewarding new career paths in fields such as heavy construction, education and transportation. Funding preference was given to institutions located in regions that have historically received less federal research funding.

ARISE is slated to receive $1.8 million in NSF grants throughout the 2022 fiscal year. Researchers hope to create a safer and more commercially efficient construction process. Schultz and Awolusi will work with researchers from New York University and industry members from the United States, as well as researchers from the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland) to advance the research program.

“The complex and dynamic nature of the construction work environment increases the safety and ergonomic risks to the workers in steel erection, known for being one of the most hazardous occupations,” Awolusi said. “ARISE capitalizes on advances in innovation and technologies to provide proactive and functional interventions to tackle this critical challenge and enhance the safety performance and efficiency of the construction workforce.”

Schultz added that advanced manufacturing technologies have outpaced the methods used on the steel-supply-side of construction.

“The ARISE project enables the research team to envision these techniques being extended into the realm of automated construction using robotics to assemble steel buildings using innovative intermeshed connections that are fabricated using advanced manufacturing,” Schultz said.

FAIR4WISE, an interdisciplinary project, will receive $551,353 in grant funding from the NSF in the 2022 fiscal year. Cai and her co-principal investigators, Yuanxiong Guo and Xiaohong Xu from UTSA’s Carlos Alvarez College of Business, will develop a framework leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and blockchain technologies to support and increase gender diversity in the construction industry of the future.

The team will work with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Penn State University, the University of Houston and partners in the construction industry.

Cai says the goal of the project is to investigate differences in how genders collaborate and teleoperate robots and create robot learning and teleoperation methods that are accessible and equitable across genders.

“If successful, the developed technology ecosystem will help improve worker productivity, safety and health, and equip the U.S. workers to lead the way in the construction industry reform in a gender-inclusive manner,” Cai said.

ARISE and FAIR4WISE are representative of the college’s commitment to solving grand challenges where humanity intersects with the physical world, said JoAnn Browning, dean of the Klesse College.

“I am excited to see such impactful research being conducted by our faculty,” she said. “The Klesse College is designed to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration to tackle key issues of today and the future. We are committed to solving grand challenges where humanity intersects with the physical world, be it down the street in San Antonio or around the globe.”


EXPLORE FURTHER

“NSF is catalyzing cutting-edge research and innovation across disciplines — where people and technology interact in the workplace,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “These projects are leveraging science and engineering to shape a safer, more equitable future of work with opportunities for all.”

UTSA is a Tier One research university and a Hispanic Serving Institution specializing in cyber, health, fundamental futures, and social-economic transformation. With an emphasis on transdisciplinary collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship, UTSA is leveraging its research and development capabilities to benefit the San Antonio community and the world beyond.

Rory Dew



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