Both science fiction and building visionaries have anticipated robots as integral to the future of housing.
In today’s world of chronic labor shortages and complex construction requirements, robots and automated systems are finally making inroads into the building industry.
The “Robotic Revolution” is the next generation. Universities have for years predicted robots use for limited tasks.
Now the potential to lower construction costs and improve efficiency for highly repetitive tasks becomes extremely enticing. The robotic MULE (Material Unit Lift Enhancer) was used in Illinois to lay more than 1 million feet of brick and foundation blocks for a multi-story building.
This could be excellent opportunities for not only the construction industry, but it opens huge industrial investments potential.
Already companies such as EKSO Bionics and Boston Dynamics are active in the research and development of new robotic equipment. The international construction market could reach $10.5 trillion a year by 2023, according to researchandmarketing.com, and robotics will be a major player.
How robotics will interface with residential construction is the big challenge. A major question is whether our current construction labor shortage is short term or will ever catch up with the demand.
There’s no question that humans are far better at making judgment calls and instantaneous solutions.
Here are some construction robotic advantages:
1. Automated pre-site building products and equipment: traditional construction activities can be factory handled for more than just assembling walls.
2. Efficient construction practices: timely and precise building material delivery; constant mechanized clean-up; significant construction waste reduction and higher efficient precision construction.
3. Providing essential services for critically lost jobs: According to the World Economic Forum, the recession cost 5 million construction jobs that probably won’t return, however 400,000 jobs will be created in architecture and engineering.
4. Remote assembly: the dream of 3-D printers producing buildings remotely is still infant. The possibilities and cost effectiveness could be staggering.
5. Quality assurance: computers have already proven they can reduce human error and improve speed and repetitive tasks. Simple processes such as brick laying, finish floor installations, painting or stucco work can easily be provided by robots.
One major mission will be finding the intersection between human skills and robotic construction functional abilities.
The future will be bringing the best talents of both humans and mechanics together to build a better world.
The construction industry has an obsessive disdain for automation for fear of losing jobs, but all these innovations will need humans in order to operate effectively.
This is the most dangerous business with almost 1,000 workplace fatalities per year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Combined with skilled labor shortages and you have an industry that needs innovation and new thinking.
Construction robots will be controlled online, use GPS and gyroscopic technology to navigate on pre-programmed pathways and conduct repetitive tasks.
Robots don’t get tired, bored or have family issues or distractions.
Robbie Robot of “Lost in Space” may not build your next house but it might paint, clean up, install sheet rock or deliver the goods to save time and costs. A brave new world is here now.
Chris D. Craiker, AIA/NCARB, is a Napa architect with Craiker Architects & Planners. He has been designing sustainable buildings for more than 40 years.