Imagine walking onto a construction site in the near future to find a team of robots doing site grading and site layout or laying a brick wall or even assembling scaffolding trusses. You may think the scene I just described is straight out of a sci-fi flick or a story by Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury, but advances in robotic technology are quickly making it a reality. In fact, depending on the type of work you do, you might already be using robots at the construction site. Robotic heat welders and remote controlled demolition robots have been commercially available for a number of years.
I don’t think that are ever going to completely eliminate the need for human workers in the construction industry, but I do believe there are many applications robots could be used for to make work on the construction site faster, safer, easier and less labor-intensive. I’ve compiled some videos below demonstrating some of the technology currently being developed for the construction industry as well as some of the technology already being used.
Semi-Automated Masonry (SAM) System
The SAM System is being developed by Construction Robotics, LLC and is intended to work with a mason in order to reduce costs, increase productivity and increase the quality of work. The system eliminates the strenuous work by lifting the brick, applying mortar and placing each brick in place. The mason is responsible for ensuring accurate placement of the bricks and to clean up excess mortar and to oversee the overall project is completed correctly.
The TERMES Project which is being developed at Harvard University has been making the rounds in the media recently and was the inspiration for this blog post. The robots were inspired by termites use of stigmergy to build mounds. Instead of communicating directly with each other, both the termites and the robots respond to changes in the environment in order to perform their next action. If one of the robots breaks down or stops working it won’t affect the completion of the structure they are programmed to construct.
The Tiger Stone is a brick road paving machine created by Vanku that can pave 3,229 SF of brick road in a day with just two human operators. The bricks have to be hand fed in the desired pattern from a hopper into a pusher slot which then lays out the brick road in one continuous sheet.
Flight Assembled Architecture
Drones are all the rage these days whether they are being used by the government to spy on citizens, as a fun toy you can control with your iPad, or by Amazon to deliver packages to your doorstep the day you order them. Flight Assembled Architecture is collaboration between Gramazio & Kohler Architects and Raffaello D’Andrea, Professor of Dynamic Systems and Control at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. The architectural installation used quadrotor helicopters that interact with each other in order to lift and assemble modules to create a structure.
Theometrics is developing a robot that can use CAD drawings or BIM models to navigate a construction site to do layouts and measurement tasks. DPR Construction and Trimble Navigations are also working on a similar “laybot” called Project Lion.
There are number of equipment manufacturers that supply the construction industry with remote controlled demolition robots including Brokk, Finmac and Husqvarna. The video below shows Insterstate Sawing of West Bend, WI using what I believe is a Brokk 260 to demo the interior of a school building for a renovation project.
I’m not sure how commercially viable or cost effective all of the technology we showcased will be in the future, but I do know that when the robot uprising occurs and they eventually eradicate the human race the robots will be able to build some nice places to live in the aftermath of their cybernetic revolt.