Construction is one of the least automated industries, but that is rapidly changing as more robots are entering the field...
Construction — no matter if it is residential, commercial, or industrial — is one of the most labor-intensive jobs on the planet. It’s also the least automated, but that is rapidly changing as more robots are entering the field due to labor shortages and the pandemic. Adaptation has always been on the front lines when it comes to new technologies. Like with nearly every industry, automated robots are being deployed to construction sites all over the world.
As their name implies, construction robots are automated machines that assist with surveying, erecting buildings, or demolition. While there is some fear that robots will replace workers, these robots are designed to work with humans, making their jobs more manageable and less hazardous in some cases.
In this roundup, we will take a look at some of the automated robots currently working in the construction field.
1: Advanced Construction Robotics’ TyBot
Advanced Construction Robotics’ TyBot is an autonomous rebar-tying robot that helps ironworkers build bridges and decking for buildings. The robot works by first installing at a set point and then told which direction to move from there. It then uses machine vision to identify tie-points along the rebar grid, which it then uses wire to secure each point.
The TyBot resides underneath a 40-foot automated gantry that allows it to move in four directions, including forward, back, left. and right. Before the robot can begin its job, workers lay the rebar in a grid pattern and then tie individual cross-sections together so that the entire grid remains stationary while the robot follows behind. The TyBot is capable of performing 1,000 ties per hour — that of a seven or eight-man crew — and requires no pre-mapping or calibration to perform its job.
2: Branch Technology’s C-Fab Fabrication Process
Branch Technology’s C-Fab (Cellular Fabrication) technology brings 3D printing at massive scales for many different structurally-sound designs. C-Fab is a 3D printing process that creates custom open-celled structures that can be used either as a stand-alone structure or as scaffolds for construction materials and architectural components. The technology provides a freeform extrusion system that allows engineers to utilize fiber-reinforced polymers to build any number of structures in a free space without restrictions or support structures. The 3D printed matrix’s open cells allow construction workers to use companion materials to enhance existing structural capabilities. The C-Fab system offers the same volumetric speed as most conventional layered 3D printers but uses up to 20x fewer materials via the open-cell design.
3: Built Robotics’ Autonomous Heavy Construction EquipmentBuilt Robotics has introduced a new line of autonomous heavy equipment to the construction industry, including a bulldozer, excavator, and CTL (compact track loader). Instead of sitting in a dusty cab for eight hours, operators can program the equipment to carry out digging, grading, and pushing applications by inputting coordinates. Similar to autonomous vehicles, the heavy equipment is outfitted using the same technology to perform their operations, including LIDAR, GPS, and ruggedized sensors to handle the rigors of construction. The trick here is that the company’s autonomous guidance system can be installed on any piece of heavy equipment — regardless of the manufacturer — and has the capability of switching back to total manual operation if needed.
4: Construction Robotics’ MULE135 and SAM100 RobotsConstruction Robotics’ MULE135 and SAM100 robots are designed to support masonry workers by lifting heavy loads and bricklaying when those loads arrive. The MULE135 (Material Unit Lift Enhancer) is designed to lift and handle up to 135 pounds of material for each load, which reduces worker fatigue. Users operate the MULE’s pneumatic end effector to grab heavy loads and hoist them up to 22 feet or higher. Once the load is lifted, masons can then position each load using nothing but one finger as the robot takes the weight. Alternatively, masons can employ Construction Robotics’ SAM100 (Semi-Automated Mason) robot, which positions each brick in place using a conveyor belt system capable of laying 3,000 bricks per day. The robot employs sensors and uses a building-mounted laser to position bricks correctly as they travel on the conveyor belt. Masons then provide the finishing work once the bricks are in place.
5: Dusty Robotics’ Automated BIM Layout SystemDusty Robotics has unveiled its robotic FieldPrinter that autonomously prints wall layouts on concrete flooring directly from uploaded BIM (Building Information Models) models, which has an accuracy down to 1/16th of an inch. The FieldPrinter robot also generates status reports in real-time, so project managers can keep tabs on projects and make adjustments if needed. The robot not only prints layouts on flooring and decking, it includes layouts for each trade — electricians, plumbers, carpenters, ironworkers, etc. — complete with details such as wall types and doors. According to Dusty, the FieldPrinter doesn’t need to utilize simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) for navigation but rather uses onboard sensors and pre-loaded building plans for precision navigation and printing.
6: Fastbrick Robotics (FBR) Hadrian X Construction Robot
Australian-based Fastbrick Robotics has introduced its Hadrian X bricklaying robot, which the company claims can lay around 200 bricks per hour. The robot was designed using steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber composite materials and is outfitted with a robotic boom to stack modular bricks. Users upload 3D CAD models of buildings and houses, and the Hadrian X gets to work stacking the bricks using Dynamic Stabilization Technology (DST), which keeps the robot stable, even in adverse conditions. Instead of using mortar to keep the bricks in place, the robot uses a polyurethane adhesive, allowing it to work in adverse conditions. The Hadrian X works by first analyzing a 3D CAD model, then proceeds to cut and grind the modular bricks depending on the measurements. It then applies the adhesive and positions the bricks into place, and will continue to repeat the process until the entire structure is built.
7: Hyperion Robotics’ 3D Printing SystemHyperion Robotics is another company that makes use of industrial-sized 3D printers for construction applications. The company’s Hyperion 3D printer is based on Kuka industrial robotic arms and uses extruded cement to create different forms, which are not limited by forms. It also features mechanical reinforcement, placing steel structures within the printed elements. Hyperion Robotics uses unique mixes of concrete and recycled waste material tailored for different environments, strengthening the 3D printed structure while eliminating waste.
8: Kewazo Smart Robotic Elevators for Improved Scaffolding Assembly
Munich startup, Kewazo, is looking to improve construction logistics with data analytics and robotics, with its first solution being robotic elevators. The elevators are designed for use at construction sites and industrial plants. They have a focus on improving scaffolding — specifically the assembly process — which it does by delivering parts when needed and at the correct point of assembly. According to Kewazo, the robotic elevators help save on costs, increase speed and safety, and deliver real-time data on the assembly process — including those working on the scaffolding and the materials used.
9: Okibo Autonomous Wall Plastering Robot
Israel robotics startup, Okibo, is looking to produce a line of construction robots, with the first being an autonomous wall plastering unit suitable for walls and ceilings. The robot can traverse the rough terrain of construction sites and 3D maps its work environment to compare the volume against the BIM to determine how much plaster is needed. The robot is outfitted with a Kuka industrial robotic arm and uses sensors and AI to perform its task with minimal human intervention. Because of its “natural user interface,” it’s easy to set parameters and instructions needed for any room or space, freeing up workers to perform other tasks.
10: Scaled Robotics Construction Site Monitoring RobotScaled Robotics has released a construction site monitoring robot that tracks the building progress, including its quality, and locating errors and costly mistakes. The four-wheeled robot leverages LIDAR and autonomous vehicle technology to navigate and compose maps utilizing video, images, and other collected data — which is then compared to the project BIM and presented to project managers to provide a comprehensive overview of the project status. The robots have already been deployed to several construction sites worldwide, including Dura Vermeer in the Netherlands and Kier in the UK.
These were just a handful of robots that are being utilized at construction sites around the world. Most are designed to alleviate monotonous or repetitive actions, such as tying rebar and assembling scaffolding. The idea is to free workers from those tasks and others deemed dangerous to human life, as it is not uncommon for construction workers — even with proper safety equipment — to suffer life-changing accidents on the job. They are not being designed to replace skilled professionals but rather augmenting them for increased performance. It will be interesting to see how these robots evolve over the next few years as new technologies are introduced.