And finally… Hand-built by robots

A US contractor has formed a joint venture with a robotics startup to ramp up the introduction of autonomous robots to construction sites.

Gilbane Building Company will make the jump from pilots to full deployment of an on-site robotics platform it has been developing with NeXtera Robotics.

“A robotic solution has to do a thing that people don’t want to do, at a time they don’t want to do it, at a frequency that wouldn’t be a hindrance,” said Mike McKelvy, CEO and president of Gilbane. “It has to be autonomous, not dependent on a human to drive it around.”

Gilbane is already using small rover robots that can document projects on a daily basis, giving site supervisors and virtual design and construction (VDC) teams key intelligence on what’s getting done. With a successful pilot completed on a job, the robots are likely the first hardware iteration of a larger platform. The company’s 50-50 joint venture with NeXtera also intends to eventually commercialise its robotics platform.

Earlier this year, NeXtera’s small rover robots were deployed on 225 Wyman, a 500,000-sq-ft laboratory and office project where Gilbane serves as construction manager. Two robots were on the site, one a wheeled model and the other with treads. Both robots were able to autonomously navigate the unfinished site, including a loading area of uneven crushed gravel, and the treaded robot was even able to climb staircases. The wheeled robot requires a human-operated elevator to change floors, at least for now.

“We truly believe that smart and gradual involvement of robotics and AI on all levels of construction, in every process – can improve productivity, increase safety and promote sustainable operations and a better environmental footprint for the entire industry,” said Lana Graf, CEO and founder of Nextera Robotics.

“Nextera Robotics is all about efficiency and sustainability - and our extremely powerful AI and deep learning powered software and products are built to make a long-awaited shift in construction. We as a robotics company are proud to be recognised by an industry leader such as Gilbane and together we will bring innovative and practical robotics products to the industry.”

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