Robots in the Construction Industry: Robots and automation arrive on construction sites

By Paul Whitt | March 21, 2018

While most of modern commerce and our daily lives have seen a dramatic increase in the use of automation and/or robots, construction sites have been one area where robots were slow to arrive. However, that does not appear to be the case any longer. A recent article published by the Associated Press highlighted the trend toward robotics and automation at construction sites in the U.S. This article (“Robots break new ground in construction industry”, by Terence Chea) can be found here.

As the AP article points out, the construction industry, and particularly construction sites, have been relatively immune to large scale automation. The uniqueness of each project site, and the labor intensive aspect of site labor has, until recently, prevented the heavy use of robotics or automation on construction sites. However, with technology advancing at a rapid pace, many roles typically held by laborers are on the verge of being replaced by robots. For instance, as the article discusses, a Victor, NY-based company, Construction Robotics, has developed a brick laying robot known as SAM (Semi-Automated Mason). While SAM currently comes at a price tag of about $400,000, SAM can lay about 3,000 bricks in an eight-hour shift – much more than a human mason performing the task by hand. Of course, there is still some human effort required to prepare SAM for the job (such as programming the design and details into SAM’s system), and to clean up behind SAM as he completes the work (such as scraping excess mortar left behind by SAM).

Another example provided by the article is an autonomous quadcopter (drone) made by Silicon Valley-based Kespry. What used to take one company an entire day to measure piles of material with a truck mounted laser (like the ones you get on, the drone can do in about 25 minutes, according to the article.

It doesn’t stop with drones and robotic brick laying machines. Built Robotics, founded by Noah Ready-Campbell (a former Google engineer), has developed automated technology for bulldozers, excavators and other construction vehicles that allow the machinery to operate themselves. The company used this technology recently at a site in San Jose, CA to perform the grading work.

Obviously, the arrival of robots and automation to the construction site will have an impact on the positions needed for skilled human laborers. To the owners of construction and demolition companies, it will provide a potential solution to the current shortage of skilled workers. For employees and trade associations, it will require a change in training for workers to allow them to perform the more technical aspects of programming and using robots or automated devices on construction sites. However, it may also provide workers with safer work environments, where the robots will be performing the tasks more likely to involve higher potential for injuries. In any event, it will almost certainly change the way we see, and deal with, construction sites – and the issues that flow from construction claims and construction defect claims.

Photo: Ewen Roberts

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