Self-directed robot
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The day may not be far off when either self-directed, or operator-equipped robots will be lifting humans out of the toil associated with many construction tasks. In the meantime, some manufacturers are combining existing technologies to achieve robot-like advantages. (Image credit: jesselee / 123RF Stock Photo)

Construction robotics has been on the horizon forever, but aside from some modest advances in using them for masonry work, the promises of robotics are far from being fulfilled.

Construction, with its labor intensive input, could perhaps break its long streak of lagging productivity by using more robotics. That doesn’t have to mean the end of construction jobs, but rather the beginning of new kinds of construction jobs, from building the robots, to maintaining them, to programming and operating them on job sites.

When I think of construction robots I’m especially intrigued by the type that would augment human strength and stamina. Imagine sitting in a robot-like machine similar to those used in the movie Avatar, and placing a sheet of plywood against a framed building with one suction-cup-equipped hydraulic hand, and then nailing it off with the other hydraulic hand using a laser-guided attachment that perfectly lines up nails to studs and drives them all at one time. Lifting roofing supplies and staging them would be quick, efficient and exact. And, setting trusses would be a breeze.

Well, as far as my research shows, we aren’t anywhere close to those kinds of construction robotics becoming commonplace, but there have been announcements recently of new initiatives that claim to be quite possible.

Quantum International Corp. is investigating commercializing home-building robots that could soon revolutionize construction, using existing technology.

Pioneered by USC Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering Behrokh Khoshnevis, this robot is being developed to read an architect’s CAD drawings and build a house using 3D printing technology. By applying successive layers of concrete on top of one other, the gantry-mounted robot can build vertical walls and even domed roofs.

“These robots can build structures faster, more safely and more efficiently with a smaller carbon footprint,” said Quantum CEO Robert Federowicz. “We envision this technology augmenting rather than replacing the traditional construction industry, potentially creating an entire new sector of jobs engineering, assembling, transporting and maintaining these robots. We already know that 3D printing and rapid prototyping work—this is simply a new approach we’re exploring to preexisting tech.”

3D-printable houses are only one robotics application that Quantum is investigating as it works to build market share in the booming worldwide robotics industry. The company is currently in talks with cutting-edge robotics developers all over the world to help deliver new innovations to market.

Quantum claims to be focused on aggressive growth and is competing with other robotics companies including iRobot Corporation, Honda Motor Co., Ltd. and AeroVironment, Inc.

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