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Robotic System Can Speed Up Construction 

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A new construction robotic system developed by engineers at Purdue University can help construction companies create buildings faster. The system relies on an innovative mechanical design and computer vision technology. 

Jiansong Zhang is an assistant professor of construction management technology in the Purdue Polytechnic Institute.

“Our work helps to address workforce shortages in the construction industry by automating key construction operations,” said Zhang. “On a construction site, there are many unknown factors that a construction robot must be able to account for effectively. This requires much more advanced sensing and reasoning technologies than those commonly used in a manufacturing environment.”

The System’s Design

One of the major benefits of the newly designed system is that it limits the amount of equipment required for certain tasks. For example, the custom and effector design means the same arm can both place and fasten material, rather than the two tasks needing to be separate. 

Through the use of computer vision algorithms specifically designed for this construction robotic system, it can sense building elements. Engineers can then take the building information modeling (BIM) data in different environments and match it to the building elements. 

This process allows for experts to identify obstacles and safety hazards while the system operates.

“By basing the sensing for our robotic arm around computer vision technology, rather than more limited-scope and expensive sensing systems, we have the capability to complete many sensing tasks with a single affordable sensor,” Zhang said. “This allows us to implement a more robust and versatile system at a lower cost.”

Robotics in Construction

The new development has big implications for the construction industry, as the sector sees a  lot less automation than others. It still heavily relies on intensive labor, which is true in commercial construction, demolition, and renovation. 

Despite this heavy reliance on manual labor, the industry will be revolutionized by AI and robotics. The technology is advancing, with developments such as the one from Purdue University playing a key role. 

One of the biggest barriers to AI and robotics in this industry is that robots often require a controlled environment. This is not the case for construction sites, which are often sporadic and uncontrolled, changing in real-time. As limitations such as these are overcome, there will be an increased use of robotics in this sector, as they are highly productive and can construct buildings much more efficiently. 

At Purdue University, undergraduate researchers assisted in the development of the system in Zhang’s Automation and Intelligent Construction (AutoIC) Lab. It was demonstrated at the OCT’s 2021 Technology Showcase: The State of Innovation.