Imagine walking onto a construction site in the near future to find a team of robots doing site grading and layout, laying a brick wall, or even assembling scaffolding trusses. This may seem far-fetched, something you’d expect in a sci-fi flick or a story by Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury, but advances in construction 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.
Robots may never completely eliminate the need for human workers in the construction industry, but there are many applications robots could be used to make work on the construction site faster, safer, easier, and less labor-intensive.
The most likely scenario is that robots will be used alongside human workers to augment their work, keep them safer and boost productivity. The current capabilities of existing robots, combined with a growing labor shortage will probably lead to robots handling some of the more menial repetitive tasks, leaving the human worker to focus on other aspects of their job.
Below is a compilation of videos demonstrating some of the technology currently being developed for the construction industry as well as some of the technology already being used.
Brick Laying Robots
Semi-Automated Masonry (SAM) System
The SAM System was developed by Construction Robotics 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, cleaning up excess mortar, and overseeing the overall project is completed correctly.
Construction Robotics also makes the MULE (Material Unit Lift Enhancer) to help lift and place heavy material on the jobsite, helping improve productivity and safety. Both SAM and MULE robots have been used to complete a number of projects from hotels and offices to retail stores and university buildings.
Fastbrick Robotics unveiled Hadrian X last year, a prototype of a bricklaying robot that can lay 1,000 bricks 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 FieldPrinter by Dustry Robotics
Theometrics’ layout robot can use CAD drawings or BIM models to navigate a construction site to do layouts and measurement tasks.
There are a number of equipment manufacturers that supply the construction industry with remote-controlled demolition robots including Brokk, Finmac, and Husqvarna.
Self-Driving Trucks & Heavy Equipment
Royal Truck & Equipment Co.
Crash trucks equipped with attenuators have been used for years in 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 has partnered with companies like Micro Systems and Kratos defense to build autonomous crash trucks to help keep road construction workers safe.
Their 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.
Built Robotics’ Automated Track Loader, or ATL, was developed to excavate smaller construction sites. The system uses specially designed LiDAR to accommodate for vibrations in order to see where it is going and to measure the material being excavated. Augmented GPS, a combination of onsite base stations and satellites are used to geofence the site and to move the track loader around the site with precision accuracy.
Instead of building an entirely new piece of heavy equipment, the electronics for the ATL are housed in a cargo carrier that attaches to the cab to retrofit existing compact track loaders. The system also has a collision detection system to prevent the loader from coming into contact with workers or other equipment on the construction site. The ATL also has a kill switch for the person supervising the work should it be needed.
Input from equipment operators was used in designing the software running the ATL and the machine operates at about the same speed as a human operator.
Komatsu’s Smart Construction ties into their Intelligent Machine Control (IMC) construction equipment. The IMC dozer has full automatic blade control and receives real-time information on 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 Skycatch 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 earthwork 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. Other heavy equipment manufacturers such as Caterpillar, Case, and Volvo CE are all working on developing autonomous construction equipment.
Doxel is using robots and artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor jobsite progress with real-time, actionable data. The technology uses autonomous drones and rovers equipped with high-definition cameras and LiDAR to photograph and scan the construction site each day with pinpoint accuracy. Their AI then uses those scans to compare against your BIM models, 3D drawing, schedule, and estimates to inspect the quality of the work performed and to determine how much progress has been made each day.
The AI uses deep-learning algorithms to identify and report errors in work performed. This can be anything from the excavation and site work to the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. The AI can recognize a building component based on its shape, size and location even if only a portion of the component is visible.
By classifying and measuring quantities installed, Doxel can tell you how much work was done each day which it can then compare against your construction schedule and alert you if your project is falling behind. The AI also detects deviations between installed components and onsite work with models so you can quickly identify errors and avoid costly rework.
The main goal of Doxel is to improve productivity, eliminate rework and help deliver projects on time and within budget.
A rebar tying robot might not seem that glamorous, but it does fill a very specific need on construction sites where labor is short. Developed by Advanced Construction Robotics, Inc., the TyBot can continuously tie rebar with only one worker needed to oversee the work. The company is also developing IronBot which can carry and place up to 5,000 pounds of rebar.
Once the rebar for a bridge project has been placed, the TyBot can be set up using the existing bridge infrastructure and set to work. The robot moves along a gantry to identify each intersection of rebar, ties it, and then moves on to the next intersection. The TyBot frame can expand to accommodate a bridge span of 145 feet.
The TyBot has a couple of clear advantages. One, it will allow a crew to be more productive because once they placed the rebar, they can move on to the next job while the TyBot does its work. Bending over and tying thousands of rebar intersections is back-breaking work that can lead to strains and other injuries.
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