According to some industry analysts, we can expect the building sites of the future to look remarkable different than they do today. Some believe that instead of humans working in hard hats and reflective vests, robotic bulldozers and 3D printers will be able to churn out new structures more efficiently and without sacrificing human safety.
At least, that’s what US-based start-up Skycatch is betting on. Skycatch has already made use of drones with some high-profile building projects that cannot be named for commercial reasons. Regardless, the drone’s make it possible to have a birds’-eye view of a site, which can be very helpful when providing progress reports and attempting to speed up the logistics of construction by monitoring deliveries and having real-time updates on changes that need to be made to any existing plans.
Japanese construction machinery giant Komatsu has fully embraced the idea of drones on the work site, currently using Skycatch drones to provide the eyes for automated bulldozers. The drones send 3D models of a building site to computer. The computer then sends out the information to unmanned machinery, effectively plotting their course.
According to Christian Sanz, chief executive of Skycatch, having multiple types of technology work alongside each other successfully could be the beginning of what becomes a steadily more robotic building site.
“The more visible data that you have on a site, the more you’ll see machines and robots moving things around rather than humans,” he explained. Sanz went on to claim that this model could be a potential solution to the ongoing housing crisis in many cities, especially San Francisco. By cutting both the time and cost necessary for building houses, more houses for low- and medium-income families could be built.
The United Nations estimates that by 2030, somewhere around three billion people will require housing. It has also posited 3D printing as a possible solution to this ongoing crisis.
Skycatch isn’t the only company of inventors racing to find solutions; a team at the School of Civil and Building Engineering at Longborough Unviersity has been developing the technology since 2007. The team first developed a 3D concrete printer within a frame and has since created a way to make a robotic arm operate the printer. That arm makes it possible for the printing to occur at a rate up to 10 times faster than before, plus it can create a huge variety of forms that now include shapes that are curved, hollow, or otherwise geometrically complex.
“I am still trying to get my head around the fact that a video about concrete- a material normally seen as boring- has had so many views,” said lead researcher Professor Simon Austin. Austin hopes that the video’s attention implies a public shift in thinking.
“I think that companies who become early adopters of 3D printing will learn a huge amount about automation and robotics and how they can be exploited on a site,” Autin continued. He hopes that the construction industry, which is known for being traditionally “risk-averse,” will eventually come around to the new technology.