The last few years have seen a number of protestations about the apparent automation of many jobs. Such trends certainly appear to be coming to the construction industry. I wrote recently about a new application of drone technology that will see the devices take on a supervisory role on building sites, whilst trials are underway for driverless trucks on road construction projects.
The Robot Bricklayer
The humble bricklayer may also be at risk of automation. A new robot, called the semi-automated mason (or SAM), offers automated bricklaying services.
The robot will perform many of the more rote tasks associated with bricklaying, such as picking up the bricks, applying the mortar and placing them in the correct location.
Its human accomplice will then perform the more nuanced parts of the job, such as laying bricks on corners or cleaning up excess mortar.
The capabilities of the device should not be under-estimated. It is attached to a scaffold and remains capable of performing seemingly rote work as the scaffold sways gently in the wind. It is, therefore, capable of making tiny adjustments to ensure the work is done according to specification.
“In construction, your design will say that a window is located exactly 30 feet from the corner of a building, and in reality when you get to the building, nothing is ever where it says it’s supposed to be,” its developers say.“Masons know how to adapt to that, so we had to design a robot that knows how to do that, too.”
Certain Kinds of Work
At the moment SAM’s strength is in constructing large, flat walls, such as those found on large construction projects. The makers believe however, that more detailed work is well within its capabilities.
The robot functions via a number of algorithms, a team of sensors that are used to measure angles and orientation, and a laser on either side of the workspace that moves as the work progresses.
The Automation Question
Suffice to say, the makers don’t see SAM’s job to remove humans from the construction site, despite it being capable of laying roughly 3 times as many bricks per day as a human bricklayer.
The purchase price for SAM is around $500,000, so it’s likely to be only useful on large projects where this kind of investment can be recouped, but it’s likely to become a trend that will only develop in the coming years.