OK, so maybe we’re not quite to the point where Skynet takes over and the battle for humanity begins, but there’s no doubt that robotics and automation are making their way further into our lives than ever before, including in construction. Thanks to new technologies, simple and/or rote tasks on and off the jobsite could soon be done almost completely by machine, saving time and money and freeing up workers to tackle more complex tasks. While on the other hand, modularization and prefab are creating more efficient end-to-end solutions for owners and developers.
These are the 8 companies that are using machines to transform the built world.
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We’ve featured Victor, NY-based Construction Robotics and its SAM100 masonry robot on our site a couple of times. The latest version, SAM100 OS 2.0, can lay up to 350 bricks per hour, and it can tackle either a standard brick pattern or soldier courses, with just a little help from a human technician who inputs instructions. SAM has already worked on prominent projects such as The Lab School in Washington, DC, and with major contracting and masonry firms such as Clark Construction Group and Wasco, picking up the slack on tedious projects as the nation’s bricklaying workforce ages and shrinks.
If there’s any chance of making Ripley’s P-5000 Power Loader in Aliens a reality, it’s in Ekso Bionics’ hands. The company, located in the San Francisco area, specializes in the field of wearable robotics, creating everything from exoskeletons to improve the mobility of those with spinal-cord injuries to robotic arms that can reduce the repetitive-stress injuries inherent in physical construction work by absorbing most of the bucking and kicking of heavy-duty tools.
Caterpillar has made notable investments in automation, 3-D printing, and robotics. Most recently, the company invested with drone-software developer Airware to improve and automate job-site analytics and gain better insight into the performance its heavy equipment in various conditions. And, back in October of last year, it invested in Clearpath Robotics, which is working on autonomous solutions for manufacturing facilities.
Cofounded by 19-year-old wunderkind Chris Kelsey and Fernando De Los Rios, Cazza aims to revolutionize the entire construction process through 3-D printing. The company is designing “minitanks”: 3-D printing cranes capable of layering 2,153 square feet of concrete per day, which can be used to build nearly “any structure you look at that was conventionally constructed,” Kelsey says, according to CNN. The 3-D printing method will drastically reduce the amount of time and labor needed for construction projects, and it will get its first big test soon, for Cazza recently made headlines after announcing plans to build the world’s first 3-D-printed skyscraper, in the United Arab Emirates, where the company is headquartered.
Piaggio Fast Forward
One day, small robots or drones could be doing some of the heavy lifting on job sites, possibly thanks to Piaggio Fast Forward. The company is focused on future mobility, and its first product is Gita, a 22-pound robot designed to follow its owner around carrying cargo, mapping its surroundings as it goes so that it can make return trips independently, if necessary.
Full Stack Modular / DIRTT / Hill Group
Prefabrication and modularization are more familiar forms of automation, but there’s no question that they’ve enhanced the efficiency of certain construction projects. Roger Krulak, founder and CEO of Full Stack Modular; Sarah Putman, a manufacturer’s representative at DIRTT; and Dave Pikey, vice president of corporate technology for The Hill Group, spoke on a panel at last year’s BuiltWorlds Rise of Machines Conference to examine modularization on different scales, from prefabricated panels to modular bathrooms to larger modular apartment buildings. They covered best practices for a field of the industry that, like the others mentioned here, still has a lot of room for future ingenuity.