Over 100 years ago, the 1900 World Fair was hosted in the elegant city of Paris, France. Also known as the 1900 Paris Exposition, it was recorded as having the largest participation of any expo at the time with over 83,000 exhibitors, and 50 million visitors across 543 acres. It featured marvels who created and invented what would shape the 20th century, such as diesel engines, escalators, and the first magnetic audio recorder – the telegraphone! Prior to the event, French artist Jean-Marc Côté and his team were commissioned to create a multitude of cards featuring future predictions for the year 2000. Unfortunately, they went out of business before the cards were printed; but in 1986, the cards were published by American author Isaac Asimov after rediscovering them! Although there are no predictions for Facebook, iPods, or NSYNC, they were very intrigued by the idea of autonomous robots. Many predictions consisted of autonomous robots accomplishing tasks that were very time consuming such as cleaning, farming, learning, and traveling. The cleaning robot prediction did come true and is widely known today as the Roomba! However, one industry that was widely left out across all the cards was the construction industry. What made robotics in construction not a thought yet strapping a bus full of people to a whale an idea (yes, you read that right)?
Assumably, transportation was widely on their minds as the first gas powered car was invented in 1886 and rapidly improving. Yet, now in 2022, more than 120 years later, autonomous robots are being created to aid the construction industry and men and women who work in trades! In our last blog, we mentioned 89% of contractors had difficult times finding workers who were trained for the job. Since we can’t speed up time, what if we could bring in talent that is able to finish a job without having to be trained and still receive amazing results? Luckily, designers and developers have been asking this question for years and have created robots that are catered towards the trades. The following robots are all autonomous once in the field, give or take some installation and programming by humans beforehand. Otherwise, once they’re running, staff can focus on other areas of the work scope and maintain (if not speed up) the projected schedule!
SAM and MULE
On average, human masons lift 3,000 pounds PER DAY! That weight is equivalent to an adult giraffe! With our industry aging out, cutting down physical labor would be a tremendous help in keeping talent longer, which is exactly what SAM and MULE are for! SAM and MULE are both acronyms for autonomous robots that were created by Construction Robotics. SAM is a Semi-Automated Mason robot for bricklaying and is the first commercially available system of its kind. SAM has saved labor by 50% and increased productivity by 3-5 times! Human masons are still responsible for aiding the robot regarding the set up and striking the joints ensuring the wall quality is good. However, it eliminates the repetitive body movements and weightlifting needed in bricklaying. This means that our aging industry can work longer (should they choose to) as the physical labor is greatly lessened. For larger projects, you’re more likely to see MULE, Material Unit Lift Enhancer. MULE is very useful for extremely heavy materials with productivity being doubled and physical labor being greatly decreased. MULES arm is guided by the mason to easily grab and lift heavy blocks. The human mason can apply mortar and place the brick correctly in place, without potentially straining their muscles. Although this robot isn’t completely autonomous, masons would be lifting almost 2 giraffes worth without this system!
PictoBot was created by Transforma Robotics in 2017 and the company has already come a long way! PictoBot is a robot that contractors can use to paint walls evenly and accurately, regardless of the time of day. Its main purpose is for large scale projects that shorten painting phases of the project schedule. PictoBot paints 4 times faster than normal brush or rolling techniques, saving 25% of the time it would take 2 human painters. PictoBot has different sizes as well, making it available for all size projects. The PBA300 PictoBot (featured in the header photo) can reach heights up to 9 feet, and the PBA1000 PictoBot (in the video) can reach up to 32! The larger PictoBot is extremely helpful as it not only saves time but allows workers to remain safe as high ceiling painting requires scaffolding to reach, as well as constantly moving the hardware as you make progress. The PBA300 PictoBot holds 10.5 gallons of paint, and all styles can operate without a light source. This is extremely helpful as the project will consistently be worked on and not intrude on anyone’s sleep!
Warning, if you have automatonophobia (fear of humanoid robots) we recommend skipping this one. However, if you don’t, you might after reading this. Japan started creating humanoid robots with their construction industry and population in mind. Their construction industry is not only aging out, but their birthrate is heavily declining, making it even harder to find new talent. Thus, the company AIST started creating mechanical humans to work, and have been improving their robots since 2007. In 2018, a humanoid robot known as HRP-5P was created and has been very successful in terms of trials and prototyping. The robot stands at 5 ft. 6 in. and weighs 222 pounds. It can handle materials that typically require human workers to work in teams, and slower. HRP-5P can remove boards from a stack, and walk them into place. When carrying the board, its ‘eyes’ are covered similar to when a human carries a large board. However, this is no hinderance because HRP-5P has accurate position recognition of the environment that is programmed prior to the project starting. It also has advanced technology in recognizing tools at the site. With special stickers, the robot senses where to hold the tool, and can use it properly. It also holds the board on the other side while working to stabilize it, just as a human is trained to! While HRP-5P is working in one room, other workers can go to other places and finish a job together in shorter time than having to move from one room to another. You must admit, this robot is neat!
Canvas, a startup company, created a robot with fundraising that will assist in drywall finishing. Using LIDAR (which we explained in another previous blog found here), the room is mapped and then broken down into sections for the robot to assess and tackle. The robot can raise up to 17 feet in height, making it safer for workers like PictoBot. Once the room is programmed in and sectioned by the operator, the robot will spray compound on walls and/or ceilings, then sand them after drying creating a smooth surface. Even better, the robot provides dust-free sanding, which eliminates breathing hazards within the workspace.
Robots used to be an idea of the far future, but with technology advancing so quickly now, we can expect insane industry advancement within just a few years! The construction industry is full of repetitive behaviors and physically exhausting actions. Developers used to come up with software and inventions that would bring entertainment to an Internet-less world, but now they’re busy trying to find ways to bring relief to those who don’t work on the internet. Construction is a large industry that could greatly benefit from robots such as these. Not only would we be able to combat staff shortages and safety hazards, but also produce even higher quality projects and finally control the uncontrollable variables of a project.
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