The construction industry is one of many looking to robots to help solve the problem of a shrinking and ageing workforce, and the many challenges that come with it.
Manufacturing automation has been commonplace since the 1970s, and with the proliferation of AI, big data and machine learning, the industry is becoming more shaped by robots, both working on their own and alongside human workers to manage cost, reduce risk and improve efficiency.
It’s predicted that the global construction robot market will more than double from $200m in 2017 to $420m by 2025.
In the US, for example, there is an ageing construction workforce, with an average age of 43, compared to 30 around 10 years ago. It’s no wonder, therefore, around four fifths of contractors are reporting having difficulties filling vacancies for skilled workers. This is because younger generations aren’t going into construction fields, while there is often also seasonal workforces, leaving labour shortages for long stretches over winter months.
In the US, around half of construction jobs are set to be replaced by robots in the next 30 years, according to experts. But it isn’t just because of an ageing workforce. Robots can do tougher, more dangerous jobs on building sites, which prevents human loss and injury. In many ways, some construction jobs are better suited to robots than humans. They can be more versatile since they’re smaller, and can handle multiple tasks at once.
One technological advancement procuring the future of robots’ role in manufacturing is 5G, which will offer faster data speeds and lower latency. This means robots will be able to enter more processing tasks into the cloud. Robots currently rely on 4G mobile and wi-fi, which can be limited when working on some sits, including in higher buildings. Getting around this can be costly.
With the introduction of 5G, robots will be able to carry out dangerous and laborious tasks without needing nearby wi-fi.
Nevertheless, there are still many successful robots in the manufacturing industry. For example, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tokyo uses a prototype robot, HRP-5P, to install plasterboard partitions, while New York-based Construction Robotics has built a semi-automated bricklayer which laid 250,000 bricks for the Poff Federal Building in Virginia at a rate of 380 bricks an hour, around six times faster than a human.
Also, the emerging industrial Internet of Things means companies can take data from connected devices and sensors and give manufacturers real-time insights. Data gathering and mapping is an often-overlooked part of the planning stages of large-scale, modern construction projects. Through projects such as Raptor Maps, one of the companies Rewired is currently backing, AI is being used to further develop drone data into deliverables that can be used in any industry or field.
Robots in the manufacturing industry are also poised to free up manpower to allow companies to maximise workers’ other skills. This, in turn, could help boost employment as job roles become more attractive and eliminate repetitive and dangerous work.
For Rewired and our backer Tej Kohli, investments in robotics and AI perception are a way to support the projects that are changing the world around us. These are the developments that will allow us to build a better future – quite literally, in the case of construction.
If you would like to find out more about the projects Rewired is interested in backing, please get in touch.
Posted on: November 1, 2018