As robotics engineers continue to study and innovate on new ways of utilizing existing robotic science and expanding on that knowledge, we grow ever closer to the future that we could only imagine before or see in science fiction. Robotics and artificial intelligence have come a long way and even now, we are finding more ways to utilize them in making our lives easier and more efficient.
Despite the perceived benefits that can be derived from incorporating robots and automation into the different areas of our lives and our work, the construction industry appears to have some hesitations and are not so quick on integrating robotics into its realm. A common fear that construction workers have when it comes to automation and robotics (which is also the most common theme when it comes to cautionary tales against robots) is that it will replace them in the construction site, leading them to lose their jobs and source of livelihood, or even becoming slaves to these robots themselves.
On the other hand, construction practitioners and firms seem to be pushing back on using robots in the work site due to the costly nature of manufacturing, producing, and using this technology in the construction environment. They find that hiring manual laborers is more cost-effective for them which further prevents them from making use of robots.
However, there have been advances in robotic science that could potentially improve the productivity in the construction arena without having to eliminate the human element of it, not to mention the benefit of making the construction site safer for the workers themselves.
Wearable Robotic Technology
When we try to imagine robots, we typically picture a humanoid figure that moves of its accord. Rarely do we envision robots as something that we could wear, but that is exactly the type of robotic technology that can be used in the construction industry. The AWN-03 and FORTIS are wearable robots that assist the wearer by providing bodily support and enhancing their strength and endurance. The AWN-03 is designed to provide back support and can lower back stress by 15 kilograms. This is useful in an environment where the workers are constantly carrying and lifting objects that are nearly as heavy as they are which puts a strain on their backs over time. Likewise, FORTIS is a wearable exoskeleton that is supposed to enhance the person’s strength and endurance as it helps in lifting heavy loads and in operating heavy construction machinery like grinders, demo hammers, or rivet busters.
Going away again from the classic humanoid figure of robots, robotic arms are another form of robot technology that can be useful in the construction site. SCARA (Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm or Selective Compliance Articulated Robot Arm) arms are being used to automatically measure and place reinforcing bars with precision. Robotic arms can generally be used in provide a uniform layer of finishing on any given surface.
Other Forms of Robots
Robots also help in protecting human workers from dangerous situations. As a building being constructed grows higher and higher, the threat to human lives that it poses increases. Robots can be useful in this space as they help in eliminating the need to deploy manual laborers. Climbing robots are instead being used in bridges, skyscrapers, and highway maintenance.
Construction also entails repetitive tasks that require consistency, and robots are a tremendous help in this space as they can be programmed to do the same things over and over without sacrificing the quality, which could sometimes happen with human construction (largely due to fatigue of doing the same task again and again). One such task is brick laying and paving, and several robotics engineering firms have already delivered robots that aid in performing this repetitive and sometimes dangerous task.
Aside from all of these, there are still more robots under development that can help shape the future of the construction industry. You will see videos all over social media of 3-D printers building a full-sized house all by itself without needing any human input, and it does so in a fraction of the time that it takes a human construction worker to do the same. There is no question that further advancements in technology will see even more infrastructures being built by more robots. So, to answer the question of “Will robots build the cities of the future?”, I think it’s safe to say that the answer is a resounding yes.