Construction can be back-breaking work, but some engineers in Switzerland have ginned up a brick-laying workbot that can help humans build buildings.
Reuters reports that scientists at Zurich's Swiss National Center of Competence in Research have created a smart construction robot called In-situ Fabricator. It uses its big arm to lay bricks in preprogrammed patterns, and uses its wheeled base to zip around construction sites, free of human help. It's got a 2D laser range finder, two onboard computers, plus sensors so it knows its own location and doesn't need help being directed where to go. It can also generated 3D maps of the work site. This allows it to build different building designs that can adapt to the construction site and unforeseen circumstances.
In general, the goal with robots nowadays is to make them smart enough to adapt to changing situations on the fly. It's the opposite of one 'bot staying put in one spot at the assembly line in a factory somewhere and screwing on bottle caps all day. With this construction bot, it could adjust to sudden changes, like last-minute tweaks to the design plan. This kind of behaviour is called "adaptive learning."
"The construction site for us, as a robotics researcher, is an interesting environment," supervising professor Jonas Buchli told Reuters. It's a useful setting because it's "somewhere in between the completely planned and controlled environment of a factory or a lab floor, and the completely chaotic environment of outdoors."
Like many roboticists, the team says the robots aren't out to steal jobs, but rather collaborate with humans and make things easier for them. Emerging tech can be particularly helpful in laborious, slow situations like construction: robots aren't just useful, but 3D printing, can be too, for example.
I wonder if more robots on construction sites would lead to a sharp drop in hard hat sales?
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