SpecifiedBy, who provide a search and comparison website to help architects and construction professionals research building products, are collaborating with Glasgow University to create structured digital data assets for the sector.

With funding from The Data Lab and Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, the project will see the development of innovative tools and processes, using AI, machine learning, big data and natural language processing technologies.

In turn, these will automatically convert technical construction product information, contained within unstructured, static documents and websites, into structured digital data assets.

“As consumers, we’re all very accustomed to the convenience of searching, comparing and buying products online – through Google, Amazon, eBay and so on,” said SpecifiedBy founder and chief executive Darren Lester. “But in the construction industry, this same process is still very slow and laborious.

“One of the key reasons for this is a lack of structured product data – which is something we’ve been working on at SpecifiedBy for a couple of years, with some 40,000 products in our database, but it’s a slow process.

“The new technology we’re working on with the University of Glasgow, with the amazing support we’ve got from The Data Lab and Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, has the potential to automate these processes and transform this sector into a proper digital industry.”

As well as being used specifically for the SpecifiedBy search and comparison engine, it’s intended that the project will produce tools to directly help construction product manufacturers and directly address wider construction industry requirements at it goes though it’s current digital transformation.

Lester added: “This isn’t just for us to use internally. We want to help construction product manufacturers all over the UK to independently transition their own technical construction product information into digital assets, and easily manage and use within a digital construction industry.”

Construction Scotland Innovation Centre’s CEO, Stephen Good, commented: “The availability of machine-readable, structured product information is essential for modern, digital workflows within the construction industry, such as Building Information Modelling. We believe this project has the potential to make a big impact and it’s fantastic that this is happening here in Scotland.”

The project is due to run through towards the end of 2017, with the technology expected to be fully implemented by early next year.