HD Lab: Robots & the Future of Construction
In September, Niles Falk, the CEO of HD Lab, joined us and shared his research and robotic technologies with our AI4AECO community. This article summarizes some of the discussions shared during the session.
There is massive potential for robot applications for digitalization, site production, and field robotics within the construction industry. The main reasons for automation in construction are the lack of skilled labor, the focus on sustainability, and the growing need for new types of houses.
HD Lab provides three robot solutions for automating the construction process, and Niels discussed Yellow Machine, a recent technology they created during our AI4AECO session.
As you know, the demolition process can be unsustainable and costly. When demolishing a house, you need to remove the paint from all surfaces and then vacuum the dust and materials because they are full of chemicals and lead. By doing so, you make sure that the surface can be reused safely. As you can imagine, this process is laborious, slow, and unsustainable.
To solve these challenges, HD Lab built a grinding robot called Yellow Machine, which can automatically grind down the paint and vacuum the dust in a safer, higher quality, and more sustainable manner. The team started this process by scanning the buildings and creating 3D or 4D models to simulate what the robot should look like and what it needed to do in a digital environment.
The process of developing Yellow Machine is divided into three phases, including the actuator (as its muscle), sensors (as its eyes), and AI (as its brain). By adding sensors, Yellow Machine became more agile, flexible, and responsive within dynamic and unpredictable construction sites. With AI acting as its brain, Yellow Machine can use the data to improve its performance and automatically adjusts its movement.
Yellow Machine can walk into construction sites and complete tasks. The secret sauce of Yellow Machine is not the actuator sensors but the software controlling the robot (the brain of the robot.) It has a user-friendly software interface that a construction worker can easily operate on construction sites.
Challenges in adopting robots in the construction industry
One of the major barriers to adopting robots in construction is changing the business model because you are replacing a tax-paying worker with a robot that does not pay tax. Adopting robots changes financial mechanisms, both on the construction project and in the investment portfolio of the construction companies. So, most construction robotics companies are challenged with whether they should offer their technology as a service, a tool, or a shared tool.
However, when a subcontractor cannot find enough workers to complete a building project faster and at less cost, offering them a technology that could amplify their workforce’s productivity and increase safety makes excellent economic sense.
Moreover, building construction robots is complex because a construction site is dynamic and unpredictable. Imagine how complicated it would be to drive a self-driving car into a construction site where there are no rules, and everything is chaos.
HD Lab offers technologies to automate the laborious construction process while focusing on the sustainability and productivity of a project.