Last month Hewden, the UK based equipment rental firm, released a reported titled “2045: Constructing the Future” authored by noted futurist Dr. Ian Pearson. It was released in honor of Back to the Future Day. In the movie “Back to the Future II”, October 15, 2015 was the day Marty McFly traveled to, 30 years into his future. The report takes a look at what construction will possibly be like 30 years from now. The report covers a range of topics from the feasible, like lighter and stronger building materials and fully automated buildings run by artificial intelligence, to the fanciful, like 18-mile tall spaceports and construction cranes made of shape-changing alloys and polymers.
Many of the predictions made by Dr. Pearson in the report are already starting to take root like supertall skyscrapers acting as mini-cities. The Shanghai Tower, which completed construction earlier this year is separated into nine vertical zones and features all the amenities one would find in a small city: residential, office, restaurants, retail, entertainment venues and sky gardens. Other ideas proposed like buildings with windows being replaced with augmented reality (AR) displays seem a little far-fetched. It’s not that we don’t think AR will play a considerable role in the future, we just don’t think people will be willing to give up having windows just to build cheaper buildings as the report suggests.
We’ve run through the report and picked out a few of the technologies the report predicts will be commonplace on the construction site and in buildings in 2045. Here are some of the technologies we think will definitely define the future of construction and are being developed today.
The report asserts that exoskeletons with “various super-attachments will convert builders into ‘transformers’ that are half man, half machine.”
Unpowered devices like Ekso Bionics’ industrial and Lockheed Martin’s FORTIS which use counterweights and a sprung arm transfer the weight loads to the ground. The fact that these systems don’t require a power source means that workers can lift and carry objects or use heavy tools for longer periods of time without putting undue stress and strain on the body without the need to stop and recharge a battery.
Daewoo Shipbuilding and Engineering are developing and testing a battery-powered exoskeleton to help workers lift heavy loads. The suit uses electric motors and hydraulic joints to allow shipbuilders wearing the suit, with a three-hour battery life, to easily lift 66 lbs. Daewoo is currently working to make the suit operate better on slopes and slick surfaces and to increase the lifting power to 220 lbs.
Self-driving Trucks & Heavy Equipment
“On building sites, some vehicles will also self-drive, with advanced AI effectively at the wheel – even smart wheelbarrows and fetch and carry robots will be common. The AI foreman will just need access to the building plans to coordinate their activities, working closely with human controllers.”
Crash trucks equipped with attenuators have been used for years on highway work zones to protect workers and motorists. You’ve probably seen them in action acting as a barrier between workers painting lines or resurfacing roads. Royal Truck & Equipment is planning to protect the one person still at risk when crash trucks are used, the driver. Later this year they are planning on launching self-driving crash trucks as part of a demonstration project for the Florida DOT. The trucks can be operated by remote control, GPS waypoint navigation or by following a lead vehicle that would transmit information to the crash truck instructing it when to turn, brake and what speed to travel.
Komatsu launched SmartConstruction earlier this year which ties into their Intelligent Machine Control (IMC) construction equipment. The IMC dozer has full automatic blade control and receives real-time information of the blade position from the Global Navigation Satellite System. The blade is automatically controlled according to 3D CAD construction data with the coordinates computed from design drawings. Komatsu uses drones from San Francisco-based Skycatch to survey job sites from the air and then upload images to computers to generate 3D models of the terrain. Prior to construction, the 3D drawings will provide an accurate understanding of the area, shape and volume of earth to be moved. Once construction plans are designed the models will be programmed into the unmanned IMC construction equipment to begin work on the early foundation.
“Robots will often work alongside humans too, supporting loads or helping with fixings and thus avoiding strains and other injuries.”
Fastbrick Robotics unveiled Hadrian earlier this year, a prototype of a bricklaying robot that can lay 1,000 brick in an hour and can build an entire house in two days complete with pathways for electrical and plumbing and spaces for doors and windows.
The SAM System from Construction Robotics, LLC works alongside a mason in order to increase productivity, reduce costs and increase the quality of work. SAM lifts the brick, applies mortar and places each brick into place, eliminating all the strenuous work. The mason oversees the overall project by ensuring accurate placement of the bricks and cleaning up any excess mortar.
“Prefabricated structures might even be produced with features to assist strong and precise attachment of 3D printed components so that a range of finishing options can be quickly and cheaply produced on site. Suitable attachment points may also be provided to hold specifically designed printers, but special print heads could also be another option for construction equipment attachments, just like drills, hammers or diggers.”
Most of the 3D printing technology we hear about is for printing entire structures like DUS Architects’ KamerMaker 3D printer, Behrokh Khoshnevis’ Contour Crafting and Enrico Dini’s D-Shape 3D printer. Last year WinSun Decoration Design Engineering printed 10 single-room buildings in a span of 24 hours. They followed that up by 3D printing a five-story apartment building and a nearly 12,000-sqft. villa.
A firm in the Netherlands, MX3D, is also planning to 3D print a 24-ft. long pedestrian bridge using a steel composite currently being developed. Aside from full-scale projects like homes and bridges, we’ll probably start seeing 3D printing technology used for architectural and structural building components they way engineering firm Arup did to prototype steel construction joints.
“Reconfigurable buildings, where walls and furniture can disassemble and reassemble on command are also technically possible but probably too complex to be economic in 2045.”
They may not be economically feasible for entire buildings in 2045, but that’s not stopping Asmbld, a robotics company based in New York, from creating Project DOM Indoors. The system uses tiny robots that are housed in access flooring to rearrange small modules to build walls, tables, chairs or whatever is needed. The robots use markers and light sensors to orient themselves in the room and assemble the modules into the instructed design.
“As buildings get taller, there will be more need for new kinds of elevators, and magnetic coupling and propulsion seems highly likely.”
Last week ThyssenKrupp unveiled a 1:3 scale working model of their MULTI system at their Innovation Center in Gijón, Spain. They plan to have a full-scale model ready for demonstration next year at their new test tower in Rottweil, Germany.
The MULTI uses the same magnetic levitation linear motor technology used in the Transrapid Shanghai Maglev Train. The control systems and safety features for the MULTI are based on their TWIN elevator system which allows two elevator cars to operate independently of each other in the same elevator shaft. The self-propelled elevator cars will feature a multi-level brake system and inductive power transfers from the elevator shaft to the individual cars.
The future of the construction industry looks like a lot of fun. The technology being developed today will make construction sites safer, while creating a whole host of new jobs in construction while eliminating some of the more dangerous and strenuous work.