Grid robots chalk lines for future of construction

Robots take over one of the highest stakes steps of a commercial building.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer
Robert Umenofer

A new pilot just put a robot out front of a major construction challenge in Massachusetts: the building of a new headquarters for a major life sciences company. The robot's assignment was to draw the all-important layout grid at the job site, a kind of paint-by-numbers life-sized blueprint that's an integral part of the building process.

The robot, by Rugged Robotics, can autonomously mark fully coordinated designs directly on concrete floors. The process, called field layout, is ordinarily done by people in much the same way it has been for the last hundred years, using tape measures, chalk lines, and surveying equipment to manually mark the location of walls and mechanical systems. In an industry marked by project overruns and blown budgets, this critical step is often a source of future downstream errors that cost time and money.

The Rugged Robotics pilot was conducted via construction company Consigli, which is building the new headquarters for Sanofi, one of MA's largest life science employers.

"At Consigli, our leadership and technology teams are always looking for ways to make construction projects more accurate and efficient, and maximize the allocation of resources on each site," said Jack Moran, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP and Consigli's director of VDC and Integrated Services. "We see technology as a way to support our workforce and to meet the construction demands of the future. Rugged Robotics proved its value with an automated tool that exceeded our expectations and worked in synergy with our team."

The construction industry is undergoing an automation makeover that, in the coming years, may transform a sector that's been stuck in the slow lane. Technologists have keyed in on the fact that productivity in construction has actually fallen in half since the 1960s. The sector has not kept pace with innovation, and as I've written, the diesel-powered hydraulic machines you'll find on most construction sites today remain essentially unchanged from those rolling around over the last several decades.

As a result, there are massive inefficiencies in the industry. According to KPMG's Global Construction Survey, just 25% of projects came within 10% of their original deadlines. When it comes to megaprojects, like large infrastructure projects, McKinsey found that 98% are delayed or over budget. 77% are more than 40% behind schedule.

Robots, drones, and big data are considered key technology categories to address these inefficiencies. With its new robot, Rugged Robotics has been very smart to key in on a specific but nonetheless ubiquitous niche within construction. 

Following the pilot, Rugged and Consigli continue to collaborate as Rugged refines, deploys and scales its solution. Future Consigli projects utilizing the robots are already in the works.

Editorial standards