New technologies (robotics and artificial intelligence) are shaking up the construction industry while improving productivity, efficiency and workers' safety
The construction industry is ripe for technological disruption.
Rapid developments in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are ushering in a new era that will profoundly change the way we live: from smart homes to self-driving cars, their applications are practically unlimited.
It is a time that we could define "exciting" for this sector, as numerous "pioneers" and research groups are developing robot technology to detect dangerous or highly repetitive activities, improving quality, sustainability and efficiency.
Further on this article, we’ll see how the roles of robots is impacting the future of the construction sector.
Robotics and artificial intelligence
Robots differ from machines for the fact that they are programmed to perform complex tasks and to operate independently from external control. On the contrary, a worker lifting a heavy load with an exoskeleton might seem involved in a robotic process, but the machine is still actually controlled and managed by the worker.
The same applies to unmanned aircraft or drones. Although they are able to perform a number of tasks at the moment, drones for commercial use are remotely controlled and cannot operate without human interaction.
Currently, probably the most common type of construction robot is the mechanical arm.
The stationary versions of these robots have been used in factories and on production assembly lines for years. Now, portable adaptations are being developed for all types of activities on construction sites.
Able to be programmed to perform a series of repetitive and laborious tasks, these robots will have a huge impact on the sector by reducing accidents and significantly increasing productivity .
A particularly important example is the robot developed by Odico Formwork Robotics that uses 'hot wire cutting' to develop complex double-curved concrete forms.
These robots can be programmed to create complex formwork moulds, with a higher degree of precision than a human worker and in a shorter time span.
Another robot, called SAM 100, was developed to build masonry constructions on site. Then, there’s also Hadrian X, a robot that can print bricks in 3D and lay them according to programmed designs, completing the superstructure of a standard masonry house in just two days.
In addition, an autonomous robot was tested for tying rebar on a bridge directly on the site.
Robots are entering the construction industry also in the form of autonomous rovers equipped with high-definition cameras and sensors that allow them to navigate within sites.
There are robots like EffiBOT, that can follow workers, bringing tools and materials, identifying and avoiding obstacles; or Doxel, a rover that uses high-definition cameras and LIDAR sensors (Light Imaging, Detection and Ranging) to carry out on-site inspections, comparing progress with models and design programs.
Then there are the autonomous vehicles, able to transport loads around the site independently or undertake specific activities (for example earthworks) according to design models. Activities such as excavation can be performed 24 hours a day without the need for breaks, significantly improving efficiency and reducing costs.
We are just beginning to see what robotics and artificial intelligence could do for the construction industry. Meanwhile, new robots are already being studied and one day they could replace man in certain sectors and job roles.