This Robot Tractor is Ready to Disrupt Construction
BE2C2 Report– A US-based startup called Built Robotics is testing what it thinks is the future of construction: the autonomous track loader. Give it coordinates, tell it what size the hole should be, hit enter, and it tears off and digs the thing with impressive accuracy.
Like a bumblebee, the little black-and-yellow tractor will claw its bucket into any vacant lot. Payload secured, it will back up—beep, beep, beep—whipping around, and will speed to its dirt pile, stopping so quickly that it tips forward on two wheels. It will drop its quarry and back up—beep, beep, beep—then speed back to its excavation for another bucketful.
According to reports, this tractor is not unlike a self-driving car. It uses lidar—that is, it spews lasers—to see the world directly in front of it. The difference being, this lidar is specially designed to work in the high-vibration, high-impact world of construction excavation. The lasers also allow the robot to measure the amount of material it’s scooped up.
To position the robot, Built Robotics uses what’s known as augmented GPS, which combines an on-site base station and satellites to produce location data down to the centimeter.
Specifically, the robot excavates holes for the foundations of buildings. Say you want a 30-foot-by-40-foot excavation at a depth of two or three feet. Depending on the equipment and conditions, that’d take a crew of humans one to three days to complete. Built Robotics claims its machine can hit about the same pace—plus the robot never gets hurt or tired and can potentially run 24 hours a day. (A robot can, of course, hurt people, though the robot has a collision avoidance system in place. And for the time being a supervisor stands there with a big red and orange kill switch in hand.)
Since the construction industry in the US has a labor shortage– a survey this year from the US Chamber of Commerce found that 60 percent of contractors report trouble finding skilled labor, roboticizing the industry wherever possible—repetitive tasks like digging and painting—could ease this strain. Agriculture has the same labor problem right now, and is increasingly turning to robots to fill the gaps.
Will that kill certain jobs in the US? Yes. But like pretty much any robotics company whose tech is designed to replace humans, Built Robotics says that the resulting increase in productivity will grow the industry and shift laborers into new jobs.
The roboticization of the construction industry is also good news for America’s horrifically bad infrastructure, says the Wired. Increased productivity could make repairs easier and cheaper. Take, for instance, robots that inspect and automatically repair pipes without humans having to rip the pipes out of the ground in a megacity specially.