On December 7th, 2017 we learned about

Robotic tractors will soon be adding more automation to building construction

Something people don’t tell you about parenthood is how much time you have to spend lurking around construction sites. Something about the preschool brain finds huge pieces of machinery rather mesmerizing, leading to mornings where a walk or bike ride has to be put on pause so you can watch just how cool excavators really are. Workers on job sites have been pretty welcoming as well, often answering questions or just sharing my kids’ appreciation for what a bulldozer can do. Some of this dynamic my change in the near future though, because a company called Built Robotics is looking to change the scheduling of construction, and maybe even get rid of some of the folks who currently control major machines.

Unmanned machinery

Right now, Built Robotics is starting small, working on turning a standard Bobcat skid loader into an autonomous robot. Ideally, the small tractor will be delivered to a site and given instructions about the size of the future building, at which point it will start scraping out a foundation pit on its own. It will navigate the space using a combination of GPS and LIDAR, the same laser systems employed by robotic vacuum cleaners to figure out the shape of your living room. It’s a bit trickier for these robotic tractors though, since if they’re doing their job, they’ll be constantly changing the shape of the space around them, which makes establishing navigational reference points a little more complicated.

Once all these technical challenges are smoothed over, a robotic tractor promises to do the same work as people, but in a more compact schedule since nobody would necessarily be limited to the schedules a human being finds comfortable. It would also remove some humans from the job site, meaning there would be fewer people at risk of injury, which is an attractive notion. Some of those people might still be needed to help manage the robotic tractors, but only if they’re up tackling a new set of specialties.

Effects of automation

From my four-year-old’s perspective, the coming wave of robotic tractors is kind of a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s a combination of tractors and robots, which is cool by definition, even if those tractors can’t also transform into humanoid warriors. On the other hand, if these tractors are somehow quiet enough to work all hours of the day without bothering the neighbors, construction will no longer be on a preschool-friendly schedule. The compressed building schedule will probably be appealing to everyone who wants to use the resulting building, but it’ll leave us much less time to stop and gawk.

Source: This Robot Tractor Is Ready To Disrupt Construction by Matt Simon, Wired

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