8 companies bringing robotics and automation to construction

Construction Robotics’ SAM100 OS 2.0 (shown here) can lay bricks at a rate of 350 per hour—or about 3,000 per day. The company is one of many bringing mechanization and automation to the AEC industry. (Image courtesy of Construction Robotics)

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.

To explore this trend in more depth, BuiltWorlds is hosting “The Rise of the Machines Conference: How Automation and Robotics are Changing Construction” on April 6 at UI Labs, a Chicago-based accelerator connecting educators, industrialists, and those in government to help solve today’s toughest problems. Here’s an overview of a few of the companies participating in the event and how they’re working to change the AEC landscape through innovations in automated machinery.

Construction Robotics

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.

Company cofounder Scott Peters will be at “Rise of the Machines” to discuss SAM and another product coming out soon, and he’ll detail the challenges he’s encountered programming robots for the job site and the effect his robots have had on human labor.

Ekso Bionics

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. Cofounder Russ Angold, now the company’s CTO, will speak at the conference.

Caterpillar

Presenting on the panel with Angold will be Jacob Fabrizius, a section manager with Illinois-based Caterpillar who’s overseeing some of the company’s forays into 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 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.

Cazza

Cofounded by 19-year-old wunderkind Chris Kelsey, who will speak April 6, 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.

A rendering of a Cazza-designed exhibition center that could be built via 3-D printing. (Image courtesy of Cazza and created by Eduard Galkin.)

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. COO Sasha Hoffman will give a solo presentation at the conference.

 

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, will take part in a panel discussion April 6 to examine modularization on different scales, from prefabricated panels to modular bathrooms to larger modular apartment buildings. They’ll discuss best practices for a field of the industry that, like the others mentioned here, still has a lot of room for future ingenuity.