April 15, 2015 │Rachel Teaman and Charlotte Hsu
Now imagine the brickmason has an assistant — a four-legged robot — that can grab a stack of bricks, carry them across the construction site, climb a ladder and deliver the materials to the mason.
Some of today’s most advanced automatons function within controlled environments or are programmed to do single tasks. OSCR’s realm is a construction site where people, materials and even the landscape are constantly in flux.
“We’re moving robots out of the factory and into the field – that’s a huge next step,” Silver says. “By bringing materials, machines and software together, we’re developing new processes for making, and that will change architecture.”
While the research effort is still in its early stages, it has already garnered support from the American Institute of Architects and the New York State Council on the Arts.
Reflecting the direction of robotics in general, the team’s robots would not replace the mason but would enable smarter labor by taking on repetitive, backbreaking tasks and introducing logistical efficiency – for example, by deploying materials across the site faster and with fewer errors.
“The focus is shifting from robotics to co-robotics, where robots work with humans instead of replacing jobs,” Silver says. “Masons are a skilled class in high demand, but it’s getting harder to find people to support them by doing the difficult work of lugging heavy materials around a site. Our tools will actually advance the mason’s skills and create more time for craft by automating more tedious aspects of the job.”
The researchers recently progressed to the second phase of the research: the development of “smart glasses” that wirelessly link the mason, robot and offsite Building Information Modeling systems – virtual simulations that architects, contractors and engineers use to map how a construction project is proceeding in space and time.
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