Robotics boast speed and accuracy, if they know how to process the input data. In construction, the push for robotic automation easily becomes bottlenecked by the industry’s nature of continuously evolving unevenly and relentlessly unpredictably. Humans are naturally equipped to navigate these challenges, but robotics lack the necessary intuition which serves as their own glass ceiling.
Enter Boston Dynamics and one of their latest creations, Spot. Boston Dynamics is a company widely known for their dog-sized robots capable of making viral videos of climbing rocks, opening doors, balancing back from kicking and even dancing. As smart as these nimble machines may appear, their videos have had their limitations. For years, Boston Dynamics has been carefully controlled by remote operators behind the cameras, offering a glimpse of what is possible, but nothing truly intuitive. That is, until recently.
Boston Dynamics has been seeking out new ways to implement its army of Spots, leading to collaboration with developers such as HoloBuilder. Their idea is to take the concept of OpenSpace’s hardhat site scanning along with traditional snap shooting to create an overall more effective solution. Between these two companies, a new product was born called “SpotWalk” which capitalizes on Spot’s intuitive, nimble and durable hardware, coupling it with a software that teaches it to walk a site on its own. This comes with several advantages.
First, robots are notoriously good at repeating the same action, in the exact way, every time to ensure consistent results. When stakeholders need to monitor progress, having consistent data presented in a similar form allows for easier, more accurate reviews. Because Spot can currently detect and respond to minor obstacles, it can also navigate the relentless irregularities of an evolving construction site.
Secondly, robots can typically accomplish tasks faster and at any time. Site surveys can be a time-consuming, expensive endeavor, discouraging those who pay someone to perform them. Typically, these surveys are only performed once a week or less. Robots such as Spot can be assigned to run sites continuously, providing daily updates on a building’s status, informing construction managers, designers and owners on its progress. These more consistent scans would allow small mistakes to be corrected earlier before they become much larger ones. Spot can also be assigned to walk sites after hours to avoid any conflict with workers.
Lastly, quad-copter drones have been a reliable tool for performing exterior surveying, but they can’t navigate interiors. Coupling this technology with interior robots on a consistent basis would provide stakeholders with a complete picture of the entire site that can be consistently tracked. By replacing 3D cameras with Lidar scanning technology exponentially more data can be extracted and processed for other actions like comparing the construction site against the Building Information Model. These digital twins can then be used for enhanced clash detection, energy analysis and more.
Witnessing a Spot robot in person can be a mixture of cute and terrifying, but it quickly becomes clear how these devices will be finding their purpose among humans to ultimately create more reliable, accurate and efficient results, which should eventually provide a stronger ROI for owners. These robots are not yet fully intuitive as they still need human interaction to learn how to walk the sites before going off on their own. The expanding capabilities, however, show promise regarding how close robots are to the brink of becoming mainstream.
Construction jobsites can benefit greatly from the automation and intelligence of customized robotics. The technology allows for faster and more accurate surveying as well as managing repeatable tasks at the same level of quality. The continued use of robots and drones combined with the 3D insight provided by BIM, will likely streamline the creation of as-built models and improve collaboration, accuracy and the bottom line among all key stakeholders.