Editor’s Comments: Strike Three?

Nov. 3, 2016

I recently watched a story on television about the use of the electronic strike zone that appears in TV broadcasts of Major League Baseball games. It’s that computer-generated rectangle graphic that represents the strike zone of each batter. The graphics can also show the path of each pitch thrown and where it ends up, either in or outside of the strike zone. The special effects package does all of this in real time.

In the exposé, the prospect of using the technology to officially call balls and strikes during games was introduced with the goal of eliminating human error. Here’s how it would work. An official off the field of play would watch a monitor and using the graphics, then radio to the umpire immediately if a pitch was a ball or strike. On the field, the umpire would relay the call to the players and fans, just as if he had made the decision himself.

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A veteran MLB umpire who was interviewed in the story regarding the use of this method, was staunchly against the idea, arguing that it would degrade the tradition and integrity of not only the umpiring profession, but also that of the sport itself. Keep in mind the same argument was made when reviewing calls with instant replay was first proposed, yet it was officially sanctioned by Major League Baseball in 2008.

In this issue we continue to inform you about the latest technological advances in the article “It’s All in the Family” by William Atkinson, which details the latest in software and equipment packaging, and also in “Straight and True” by Daniel Duffy, which outlines developments in laser and GPS paving. These days, there is no shortage of material to write about when it comes to construction technology. Advances and innovations are being made seemingly on a daily basis.

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But when considering the adoption of new technology, construction companies and contractors have a much tougher decision to go all in than an umpire calling balls and strikes. The umpire doesn’t have to worry about machine and fleet efficiencies, being able to hire skilled machine operators, or meeting construction deadlines. The umpire doesn’t have to worry about how much the technology is going to cost and if he’ll see a return on that investment. Those are the kinds of tough decisions that contractors and construction companies are facing.

In JBKnowledge’s 2015 Construction Technology Report, on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being “very comfortable” with technology, 65% of builders say they were at least an 8. It signaled an increasing ease with it. Still, there is resistance. Some roadblocks to the adoption of technology are budget, lack of IT staff, management resistance, lack of knowledge of the existence of new technology, and the age of existing technology.

Companies also have to consider the influx of what I call “non-traditional” construction tech products. By this I mean tools such as drones, virtual reality and 3D printing. Computer chip maker Intel has now entered the commercial drone business. The website Construction Dive reported last month, “Intel’s move to enter the game signifies that established technology manufacturers recognize the market potential for drone deployment, pegged at $127 billion by PwC, with infrastructure and construction representing the largest global drone market, accounting for $45.2 billion of the total.”

Researchers in Germany are developing virtual reality programs to improve safety and training at construction sites. A team at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, TN, has successfully 3D printed an excavator cab that can be installed into an operational excavator.

The number of technology options in which to invest is not only growing, but are also starting to require new and various skill sets. That exacerbates the stress in making technology adoption decisions. Even so, while the pace is faster, the tools are better, and the choice is tougher, the construction game hasn’t necessarily changed. A human hand can still dominate the landscape.

Perhaps that’s what the umpire is clinging to: control of the game. As it is now, he can still throw you out for arguing balls and strikes.