The Crazy Future of Construction Technology

Domo Arigato!

by Joanie Hollabaugh

If you’re an old Styx fan like me, the campy rock song “Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto” may get stuck in your head all day! Perhaps an example of life imitating art, Mr. Roboto is thanked for “doing the construction-robot-with-beamjobs nobody wants to” – which could describe the state of construction labor now and most likely in the future. The silver lining behind the labor shortage could be the rise of construction automation and alternative technologies.

So far, the emerging technologies and robotics I’ve discovered are fascinating!

Ironically, the construction industry, which is notorious for being a laggard in software adoption, is now introducing buildings with facades with “breathable skin” and solar collection, panels with micro-algae that produce a heat source (which we covered in the July Newsletter), survey/scanning drones, masonry robots, and massive scale 3D printing.

To Infinity, and Beyond!

The AEC industry is embracing these technologies with ground-breaking prototypes, experimental buildings, and even a Harvard research group is jumping on board!

One of our favorite publications, Building Design + Construction did a cool, five-part series on robotics, drones, and 3-D printing technology.  An excerpt on the use of building ‘skins:’

One of the most successful areas for applying automation and robotics has been at the building envelope. Some forward-thinking building enclosure designs practically work like animal skin, adjusting their shading and vents to changes in ambient humidity, temperature, and light. Biomimicry is a common influence on these active or dynamic façades, which incorporate moving parts, sensors, and actuators, often tied to the central building automation system.

Properly designed, active façades better regulate interior conditions and reduce energy loads for lighting and HVAC. – Read more here.

Ter-mighty! Self-Organizing Robotics

Harvard’s Self-Organizing Systems Research Group, inspired by termites’ behavior, created the “Termes Project” – where autonomous robots were instructed to create large-scale structures. They were given a high-level set of “traffic” rules, which based their behavior on other robots movements, and the actual structure itself.  There is no supervisor, no actual blueprint, no communication – just a genius algorithm which allows the robots to act independently AND collectively. Check out this fascinating video.

Meet SAM

Masonry robots are already in use. SAM – the Semi-Automated Masonry system is a propane-powered bricklaying robot, who can stabilize and adjust itself on scaffolding! SAM is the brainchild of Construction Robotics, and you can watch him work on building a new high school in Laramie, WY here.

Kilroy Was Here IS Coming!

In a twist at the end of the epic Styx song – the hero, the escapee from prison, Mr. Roboto  disguised as a robot – exposes his identity as Kilroy (a graffiti slogan from WWII).

Engraving of Kilroy on the WWII Memorial in Washington DC

Engraving of Kilroy on the WWII Memorial in Washington DC

But what if Kilroy was your new superintendent?

Imagine a construction site where workers were not affected by climate, sunlight, or fatigue! Where risk, liability, and maintenance were predictable and standardized. A world where drones surveyed sites, measured and relayed data for Data Driven Design? And buildings could regulate heat, energy, and possibly produce food?

Would jobs be won based on a new value proposition? The quickest build-to-occupancy? Or maybe a new AEC standard like LEED, only more progressive? Robotics and technology would certainly be an intregal part of lean construction management, and could possibly be programming human behavior!

Domo arigato, indeed!

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