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Natalie Kalin: The Future of Construction Sites Lies in these Robots

Being on a construction team is hard work. Having worked on a crew to lay residential concrete, I can attest to this statement. Many of the tasks for a concrete team are not only difficult, but also repeatable tasks–laying rebar, greasing dowels, running a screed across the top, stamping the concrete. This is true for many construction sites.

And, of course, at the intersection of arduous and repeatable, there are bound to be robots (or, at the very least, great machines.)

Trying to break into the residential housing scene is a layered fabrication technology. Named Contour Crafting, this technology reads CAD drawings and then layers concrete for full-sized houses like a gigantic 3D printer. Developed by Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis at the University of Southern California, the system is estimated to complete a house in under 24 hours (likely a small house, not a mansion).

An old animation from 2008 shows the idea behind Contour Crafting:

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The task of building a house with this machine is not fully autonomous: installing doors, windows, and other commodities would need to be performed by workers. Plumbing and electrical wouldn’t be spewing out of the machine either. Bottom line: we’re still a ways from creating a bot that can plop down an entire house ready-to-go, furniture and everything installed. Still, eliminating the walls is a large step towards seeing that day.

And if you’d rather go old-school with your new house, another robot will lay bricks for you. The company FastBrick (fitting name there) works off CAD drawings like Contour Crafting, and can lay up to 1,000 bricks an hour. Building an exterior every two or three days, accommodations can even be made for electrical and plumbing (which takes away yet another step. Even if a human still does need to install the wires and pipes).

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So, you have your house. What about your driveway? No need to worry: the German company Tiger Stone has a paving machine. Though it does need to be fed bricks by two or three workers (perhaps one day there will be no extra help necessary), the machine arranges the bricks together and lays them down on the road, completed. With a sensor that can follow curbs, this paver can manage 3,226 square feet a day (an average human can only manage 75 or 100).

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Far removed from the residential scene and deeper in the grim of construction are automated mining haul trucks. These bad boys released from Caterpillar are running fully autonomous on mining sites in Australia. Obviously, there are managers overseeing the machines from offices (not sure we want a driverless mining truck running amok from a short-circuit). Still, humans aren’t on site. These trucks are running fully autonomous.

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Dozens of other companies and universities are working towards making the construction scene automatized. Though we are making great strides, it seems we are still far from machines that output completed buildings in five seconds like those promised in the future of Disney’s Meet the Robinsons.