The emergence of robots on the job site tracks recent trends in industrial automation technology. In the last decade, machine vision has enabled robots to safely navigate factory and warehouse floors without the need for dedicated tracks.
On industrial lines, collaborative robots with sensitive force sensors and astounding dexterity are increasingly working outside cages and alongside humans. Meanwhile, in the unstructured world of highways and city streets, autonomous vehicles are maturing quickly, even if the technology isn't quite market-ready.
Construction sites offer a nice compromise between the structured world of factories and the unstructured world of roads and highways. The sector has recovered nicely since the collapse a decade ago, and a spate of new and legacy companies has taken dead aim at the $1.2 trillion industry.
Caterpillar, for example, recently invested in Sarcos, a robotics company with a line of exoskeletons that augment human strength.
Companies like Ekso Bionics, which started out catering to the medical and rehabilitation markets, has tacked toward heavy industry with a new line of products that allow workers to hoist tools above their heads for hours at a time without injuring themselves.
And there are now several companies that use drones to track progress at construction sites in real time.
Silicon Valley players like Built Robotics are figuring out how to turn dumb machines like bulldozers into autonomous, data-gathering systems to streamline site operations.
The upshot will likely be more predictability in construction timelines. The industry is notorious for overruns.
What the impact of automation will be on jobs is still unclear. There are an estimated 10.3 million construction employees in the U.S.