For years, robots have had an easy life in factories, taking care of all types of repetitive tasks. That predictability makes for high-performance and uninterrupted workflows. On a construction site however, no day is the same. With labor constraints top-of-mind for many construction managers today, a lot of exploration is going into relieving human problem-solvers from boring and repetitive tasks.
One such task is data collection. By using a robot for data acquisition, coupled with a construction collaboration platform, which provides a continuous and automated flow of information between the field and office, construction project managers can easily capture and review jobsite progress on an ongoing basis without slowing down well-trained staff in the field. For this to make business sense, the robot needs a fair amount of autonomy. After all, to get the most out of this technology the robot should be able to perform its task unsupervised. It is simply not enough to ‘bolt on’ a data acquisition device to the back of the robot if it requires managing every move through a remote control device.
A full integration of the technologies for movement, geographical navigation and data acquisition gives the solution situational awareness. With the amount of sensors that are being deployed on a construction site and the further deepening and granularity of techniques such as BIM, construction robots will soon grow further to better understand their environment and the changes that happen within the surroundings. Putting them well on their way to becoming real construction co-workers.
Do such robots on construction sites already exist? Or is the use still in an experimental phase? I would be interested in how much labor/man hours a robot would be able to save. Or how many years a robot needs to ‘work’ to make a profit.
Yes, the first robot solutions are finding their way to construction sites all over the world. Balfour Beatty in the UK for example is now using the solution on a number of sites. The US has a couple of sites where the robots are actively contributing, but also on mainland Europe companies like Acciona are employing Spot in tunnel construction. For Trimble the focus is on our integrated solution, encompassing the Boston Dynamics robot, a Trimble GNSS module and a 3D scanner or total station. The integrated solution is managed through our software that enables controlling all three systems from one tablet.
It is not so much about saving labor, as there is a big labor shortage in construction, but lifting the burden of valuable co-workers by leaving dull, dangerous and dirty tasks to the robot. Examples are daily stockpile scans (which a robot can do at night) or security checks on distant or dangerous sites. One operator can in fact control multiple robots once these have been properly introduced into the workflow.