23 June 2020 4 min read

The Future of Construction. Robotic Swarms and Humanoid Workers

 

Technological marvels present endless opportunities for the construction industry. Robotic swarms and humanoid workers may seem like a far future but they are already here and their usage may revolutionize the industry!

We live in a time of dynamic changes and rapid technology growth. The digital transformation of the construction industry presents opportunities, but sometimes it’s challenging to keep up with the technological advances that are presented and not get lost. But it is our duty to keep up to date and use the new resources technology gives us, to our advantage. As Michelle Barkess said : “This awful pandemic has pushed construction to adopt new technology at pace, and there will be no going back.

Construction Industry as we know it

For many years the construction industry holds the not-so-honorable place on the podium of the least digitised industries. But years go by and with time we learn how useful modern solutions are and how much time and money we can save by applying them. From simple project management tools, through next generation ERP software ending on innovative robots - the technology offering its fruits and the construction industry finally realising it’s time to focus on the future, not the past. The recent crisis caused by the coronavirus opened our eyes and pushed the industry to adopt new solutions, fast.

During our series of articles we already talked about digitalisation and tools that support digital transformation of the industry like exoskeletons for women or drones. Today, let’s take a look at something even more interesting.

Robotic swarms

Nature offers us almost unlimited resources for innovative ideas as there are so many things we still can’t explain when it comes to mechanisms that control it. Researchers at Harvard focused for example on termites, wanting to use their findings to build something the construction industry has not seen before.

Inspired by a discovered behavior, scientists created a small construction robot with one purpose - for it to work together with others as a swarm, and conduct construction tasks. The idea behind the swarm is simple: to use a large amount of robots to build a project according to a plan, without central guidance. The robots should work on it’s own and yet still cooperate with others just like termites - building massive structures without a single command central but in harmony with all of the other surrounding robots. It’s possible thanks to built-in sensors that detect the other robots, and follow a set of rules to avoid collisions and work as a whole.

Robotic swarms can build from different materials starting with traditional bricks, and ending with fibers. They can also be used in digital fabrication as MIT’s Mediated Matter Group proved creating the Fiberbots, small robots that work cooperatively to create fiber-based structures.



Swarm-bots are still a more fascinating novelty than widely used tools, but their potential is immense! Even being the cutting edge innovative technology, swarms are said to be simple to use, low-cost, and extremely effective. They can be used on sites too dangerous for human workers or support construction projects reducing risk and helping with safety on the sites.

Humanoid workers

Futuristic technologies are always popular and interesting to learn about, but for the majority of time we are used to keeping them in the imaginary “future-land” that may never come. Nothing more wrong - some of them are already here and are being developed with extreme engagement!

Robots are used in the majority of industries supporting mankind in many ways from 3D printing and assembly lines to simple home chores (like robotic vacuum cleaners). In the construction industry some types of robots are already being used:

Articulated robots
With joints resembling a human arm, used in manufacturing and welding

Cartesian robots
Industrial robots often used for 3D printing

Collaborative robots
Supporting workers but still requiring human supervision or operation

UAV’s
Unmanned aerial vehicles - drones; becoming more and more popular in construction industry

Self driving vehicles
Excavators, bulldozers and ATL’s already used on sites, able to perform their tasks without human driver

However, some tasks on sites require a very specific set of ‘skills’ and human workers are always indispensable at some point. Unfortunately, the frail beings that humans are, we are prone to injuries and in need of protection. How about using technology for support? Exoskeletons are already widely known and used in the industry supporting workers and improving their efficiency. Now the technology has brought us one more invention - humanoid workers. The idea of human-like robots is not new and we already saw some extraordinary inventions like NASA’s Valkyrie designed for space missions. How about the use of humanoid workers in the construction industry?

Designed to imitate the human body the construction robots are already able to perform simple tasks on-site. They are not highly advanced yet, but the possibilities they open before the industry are endless.



The hurdle that is yet to be overcome is flexibility. Construction jobs are not static, the workers move around a lot, sometimes in difficult conditions at that. For now humanoid workers still have their limitations and technology will have to tackle them before they are widely used. Right now (and probably for the years to come) the precise human eye and flexible body will be indispensable in construction, but we may be able to use construction humanoid robots as “helpers” that would support workers in tiring tasks (like heavy lifting) or repetitive tasks, keeping the human workers focused on more important duties requiring their experts knowledge and skills.


These mentioned technology marvels will allow construction companies to go beyond current limitations, and achieve goals they don’t even consider yet. As with all new solutions - there is always a fear and reluctance to be the first, but the only way we can achieve growth is by keeping an open mind to new possibilities. The future of construction depends on how we react to innovations and how we use the resources we are given.

Are there any more innovative tools you think we should add? Let us know!
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