Construction is waiting for the rise of robotics, but mechanical helpers are already here.
Procore director of business development for the marketplace Kris Lengieza addressed an audience of construction professionals recently at Procore Technologies latest Connectseries event and said while robotics and technology will change the industry, it may also rattle people’s assumptions.
Lengieza said it’s commonly thought robots will working the field to address an ongoing labour shortage, the role of robotics will be more subtle.
“Where I think robots are going to show up immediately and are already starting to show up is in data collection, having (a robot) go out in the field and collect information, take photos, collect concrete samples,” he said.
“Then it’s going to be things like moving material around, and we already see autonomous trucking. How are materials going to get to the job site and then get moved around the job site using those autonomous vehicles, and then lastly, we’ll finally see things come to the jobsite to put work in place,” Lengieza said.
He also pointed out increased adoption of modularization and off-site construction also means a bigger role for robots.
“When you talk about bringing more of the construction operations into a factory setting, then it makes a lot more sense for robots to be involved because now you can set up an assembly line and you can have stationary robots work on something that’s moving. They’re in a controlled environment, have good connectivity, have good controls and you can pretrain them to that environment,” he said.
“All the troubles we have putting them on a job site, because everything is so unique and disconnected aren’t a problem in the factory and you’re already starting to see this if you look at the mechanical, electrical and plumbing fabricators of the world, they’re using a lot of robotics int heir sheet metal cutting, pipe work,” Lengieza added. “So, it’s not that robotics aren’t in construction, we just aren’t looking at it in the same way the rest of the industry is looking at it.”
Advanced robots such as Boston Dynamics doglike “Spot” are being built as a platform in order for people to figure out what to do with the devices, he said. Conversely researchers in China are working on a humanoid robotic drywall hanger which Lengieza said is a good proof of concept but wouldn’t necessarily add value.
“Maybe it doesn’t have to be humanoid, people are better at that task, but moving material like drywall that typically sits on skids with a robotic forklift that moves around the jobsite and avoids people, moves heavy material and maybe more than a human can, that makes a lot of sense,” he said.
Technology can also be an opportunity both for those entering the industry and workers reaching the latter part of their careers, Lengieza said.
“We all live in a digital world and (young people) say ‘I come to construction and it’s so undigitized. If we can take this technology, put it in front of them and say this is how we’re building in the future, they’ll still need to learn how things go together and how we build traditionally because it informs how you use the tools,” he said.
“But now we have all these people leaving the industry who have 30 to 40 years of experience. How do we get that knowledge out of them and train others? Technology can be a great bridge between those generations and really do some bidirectional mentoring of teaching an older person how to use technology and that person teaching a younger person how to actually build,” Lengieza said.