With the labor shortage in the construction industry not showing any big signs of relief, a push towards automation that includes robotics and exoskeletons may soon be on its way—much to the delight of contractors and builders.
Coming this fall, the Hadrian X, a brick-laying robot, will be on the market from Australia’s Fastbrick Robotics. The Hadrian X has a 30-meter (nearly 100 foot) arm that can lay one thousand bricks per hour, compared to a human bricklayer’s average of one thousand a day. The Hadrian can read CAD files, and can work constantly, day and night.
“Automation is a need now, not a want,” Mike Pivac, president of Fastbrick Robotics, said in an article on Motherboard. “We have to do this. If we’re going to satisfy the global need for low-cost housing over the next 30 years, as we add another 3 billion people to the planet, we see solutions like this as being very, very important.”
And the Hadrian X is not just a PR experiment that will never see real work. Big companies are getting invested. The construction machine giant Caterpillar has invested two million dollars in Fastbrick.
“[Robots don’t] replace the need for workers,” said Brian Turmail, of the Associated General Contractors of America. “They change the skill set, mix, and possibly location of workers who are needed.”
And some new tech doesn’t replace workers—it augments them. In a branch of robotics straight out of science fiction, exoskeletons (think Ripley at the end of Alien) are on the fast track to take over the industry. One research firm, ABI, says the robotic exoskeleton industry could grow to $1.9 billion by 2025. The EksoVest, from EksoBionics, will be on sale this winter: it’s a relatively low-profile exoskeleton that workers wear to enhance upper body strength and mobility. Currently, it is designed more as a safety device than Ripley’s wearable forklift, but it’s paving the way for bigger things in the future.
Zach Hass of BuiltWorlds Online wrote about the boon the exoskeletons are to safety: “These exoskeletons are solving problems for injuries that people are getting without doing anything wrong. They’re doing their job just right. The fact this: it’s just really tough work that takes a toll on the body.”
So, whether it’s filling jobs openings that are plaguing the industry, or augmenting and protecting current workers, robotics and automation are on a trajectory to put them in the mainstream within the decade.