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Is robotics the future of construction? [Exclusive]

All the reasons that you can think of why low-level robots are built fall into two main categories: safety and efficiency.

Robots can do repetitive tasks like screwing on bolts and screws all day without sacrificing efficiency and perform dangerous tasks like going under freezing water to locate a wreck without safety concerns if human divers did the job.

Industries like manufacturing have already made robotics part of their process and have dramatically increased their output while reducing their rate of accidents. With this, you would think that the construction industry would also benefit from using robots in the work site to reduce workplace accidents.

In the USA alone, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that over 150,000 of construction workers are injured on site mostly due to falls or accidental contact with a piece of equipment. There is a rate of 3.4 per 100,000 workers fatal injury rate in construction, making it one of the most dangerous industries to work in.


The Nature of Robotics and The Construction Industry

So why hasn’t the construction industry been quick to use robotics as a staple in its operation? Some of the people say that it’s just because the construction industry is slow to accept technology.

In fact, it’s only been a few years since AEC professionals have started incorporating software tools like construction project management programs, construction punch list app, bidding software to name a few.

That could be a good reason, but a better explanation lies in the nature of both robotics and construction.

Usually, robots are built to operate in a controlled environment where it does repetitive tasks ( for example, in an automobile factory) without any human beings to disturb their operation. The environment in a construction site is the polar opposite of this one – it’s unpredictable and changes all the time.

Right now, programming robots to react to a lot of unforeseen variables while it works side by side with its human counterparts are still in the pipeline. However, with the advent of new technology, these limitations can be overcome and for sure, it won’t be long before robots become a part of the construction industry.

Robots in Construction

Despite the limitations, robotics has found its way in construction, and these robots fall into one of the three categories:

  • Wearable Robots

  • Robotic Arms

  • Low-Level Traditional Robots

Wearable Robots

 There is one word to describe this type of robot that can be understood right away: Ironman.

 Hollywood special effects aside, these robots are technically called Exo suits or exoskeleton. This type of robot is a framework made of metal with motorized muscles attached.

This robot’s main purpose is to multiply the wearer’s strength, and this is done by building this mimicking a human’s skeletal configuration.  When a person wears this exoskeleton, the wearer is able to lift heavy objects easily and safely without straining the muscles to the point of injury.

Exoskeletons are now in the market and come in different categories: back support exoskeleton, mounted arm exoskeleton, arm support limb, crouching and standing support and a whole body suit.

Robotic Arm

A robotic arm is exactly what it sounds like – a mechanical arm and does tasks that are similar to what a human arm can do.

Robotic arms that are available in the market can either be part of a more sophisticated robot or can be stand-alone robots. The best industry to see robotic arms in action is the car manufacturing industry where it is already part of the car manufacturing process.

In the construction industry, the robotic arm has found its use in 3D printing. MX3D – a  robotics company based in the Netherlands made use of robotic arms to successfully 3D print the first working steel bridge which took six months to complete. This pedestrian steel bridge is set to be installed in Amsterdam’s red district sometime this 2019.

Three robots were used and 9,900 pounds of stainless steel to print this 41-foot long bridge.

Traditional Robots

These robots come in the form of independent robots that are utilized to build the basic structure of a construction project. These robots are controlled either by a computer or an onsite stimulus. These type of robots in construction usually do repetitive jobs.

A real world example for this type of robot is a robotic drilling rig.

This was used to drill holes in concrete underpass linings for a Crossrail project.

Using a robot to do this job significantly reduced health hazards in the form of silica dust that can cause a lot of harm when inhaled.

Robots and Construction Jobs


The MEPI or Midwest Economic Policy did research about robots in construction and concluded that by the year 2057, robots can replace 2.7 million construction jobs.

And, although this prediction is not until 30 years from now, and a lot of things can change in between, there is mounting fear among the construction workers that robots will take away their jobs and they’ll be left with nothing. So, are robots being positioned to replace construction workers in the future?

The truth is that yes, there will be jobs in the future that will be considered obsolete, and it is probably that construction work will be one of it. But for every job that will be lost because of automation or technology, 20 more jobs will grow in its place.

There is no better way to understand this than by looking back into our history. Back in the Industrial Revolution when the T-model, the first automobile was invented by Henry Ford, lots of people whose jobs relied on the traditional horse carriage were lost.

But, new professions opened up to replace those that were considered obsolete – mechanics, plant operators etc.

To cite a more recent example would be telephone operators for phones and pagers who are now considered obsolete with the advent of smartphones and instant messaging.  New jobs like online customer service people or app developers cropped to respond to the new need.

The key thing to remember is that change is part of life, no matter how cheesy it sounds. 

And technology is evolving the way we live in ways that we’ve never imagined before. While this can be scary for some people, it is best to remember that faced with new things, we humans do what we do best – we adapt to change.

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