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The Future is Now for Robots in Construction

© Construction Executive 2022

Automated onsite data capture and site monitoring with a robot is coming to a construction site near you. Autonomous robots are transforming the construction industry and are being deployed on jobsites for a variety of purposes. The integration of autonomous robots into construction workflows can enhance field to office communication, reduce rework and facilitate onsite tasks, as well as empower construction teams to automate repetitive and/or hazardous tasks to improve the safety, quality and speed of projects.

However, these robots themselves don’t work alone. With various payloads (such as 3D laser scanners, GNSS antennas, robotic total stations and cameras attached to the robot) and collaboration software integrated, these robots can help construction projects truly operate with a single model as one source of truth.

For example, Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot can be combined with a Trimble X7 3D laser scanner through one integrated tablet controller to perform autonomous scanning missions and enable in-field analysis of data. This provides a continuous and automated flow of information between the field and office so construction project managers can easily capture and review jobsite progress on an ongoing basis.

Let’s look at some of the new ways robots and construction technology come together to digitize the construction site.

3D Scanning and Reality Capture

One of the most common applications for robots in construction today is reality capture. When integrated with global positioning and 3D scanning technology, they can move through a jobsite autonomously to document real world conditions consistently over time and streamline construction progress collection. This automated and repeatable approach to field data capture provides contractors with real-time awareness of the construction status through scan-to-model comparisons, helping to see the progress of construction to avoid rework, ensure quality and accelerate project delivery.

Contractors can analyze scan data and 360º images to compare them against coordination models to provide data insight and ensure the project is being built according to the plan.

Operators teach the robot how to navigate a project safely and enable the autonomous capture of scan data. Once a route is defined, the robot can perform scheduled daily missions following a predefined path of waypoints to automatically collect laser scans. In-field registration provides a fully registered point cloud to project teams at the end of the mission, saving time to process and analyze the data.

Remote Monitoring and Inspection

A new benefit of using autonomous robots on the jobsite is the ability to do remote operation and inspections. This enables virtual design and construction teams to be in a more centralized location to manage multiple projects from a “mission control” location and avoid unnecessary travel costs to a project. Equipped with the right hardware and software for construction data collection, the robots are the eyes and ears of the virtual construction teams while being operated from hundreds of miles away.

On remote project sites, positioning and inspection routines using GNSS can be facilitated by putting a robot in an outdoor environment with a clear line of sight to the sky. This opens a promising future to utilize the benefits of scan data analysis on remote construction sites where staffing is limited but the requirement for construction monitoring is required.

With the ability to use robots for remote operations, contractors can scale their existing virtual design and construction teams to support more locations and different project types.

Addressing the Labor Shortage

As the labor shortage continues to plague the construction industry, new technology is paving the way to address this challenge and the use of robots is no exception. People must perform multiple roles to meet the demand and robots can become collaborative robots or “cobots” that supplement existing teams onsite. This includes taking over mundane or repetitive tasks so people can focus on more high value activities and work more efficiently.

As more workflows being done by humans today become automated, activities such as building layout can be turned into a 24-hour work cycle where points are laid out overnight and field crews can begin installation of building systems in the morning.

The integration of autonomous robots into construction workflows gives construction teams the ability to perform more frequent construction progress monitoring to lower overall risk, improve production and quality and enhance jobsite safety. Eventually this technology will get to the point where the robot is working as another tool that is a normal part of the daily construction process.

 

Written by David Burczyk - Construction Robotics Lead, Trimble and published in Construction Executive, 8.3.22

Further details on the Trimble Spot robot