In recent years we have seen more self-driving or autonomous vehicles appear, and this technology is having a transformative effect on many industries, including the construction sector. As high-tech companies pioneer this technology, many construction workers are no doubt pondering what impact it will have on their jobs.
The signs are good. Construction workers may discover that a helping hand from an autonomous robot will be beneficial to them with improvements in on-site safety and efficiency.
Manufacturing has been using robots for some time, and they have proven immensely successful. The tasks that these robots can perform are broad and include welding, testing, and inspecting products. Many of us have seen the images on TV of an automobile factory with dozens of high-speed robotic arms whizzing around and welding, sparks flying all around. The factory setting was the perfect place to test out this technology, a test bed as it was being observed and improved, being inside buildings away from the elements and all the uncertainties that come from outside.
Mining and farming are similar in some ways to the factory setting in that they operate with fearly predictable scenarios and patterns, albeit with potential complications like the weather. In farming, for instance, there are similar and repetitive steps like planting, fertilizing, and harvesting, all of which are just repetitive steps with little variation. Robots are ideal for tasks like monitoring soil humidity in greenhouses; they can communicate with other robots and coordinate watering of crops if required. When operating outside the greenhouse setting, in the fields, they are efficient at moving through neat rows of crops, collecting data about yields and pests.
Mining work is similar in that it is cyclic. The conditions that are harsh for humans are ideal for robots with no requirements for coffee breaks or shift changeovers. These autonomous vehicles use radar and scanners to enable them to navigate safely through tunnels. Other mining uses include automated drill rigs which work faster and more efficiently than humans can.
The construction industry can see numerous applications for bringing robots onto construction sites alongside their human counterparts. It makes good commercial sense. Construction sites are like factories in that they are closed off and not open to the public. One difference, however, with the robots being used is that construction site robots are not necessarily static but need to be capable of moving and working independently after being given instructions.
Jamie Johnson, CEO of FJP Investment, opined with a few incisive observations: “These autonomous or self-driving construction vehicles provide a better and safer work site, especially since historically, accidents are not uncommon when heavy machinery is in use.
Using automated machinery, the operator can manage the project at a safe distance. Other potential site hazards are reduced, such as high levels of dust, noise, and vibrations.
“The robots come into their own when it comes to performing the more mundane, dangerous, and repetitive aspects of the work. This will free up skilled human workers to focus on other areas, like the more complex tasks like loading trucks and excavating utility lines.” Indeed, human welfare is greatly enhanced by the use of robots on construction sites.
These autonomous and semi-autonomous robots improve productivity and reduce costs. With the technology that is integrated with them, they can monitor in real-time and complete the tasks speedily, accurately, and efficiently, which is the whole point of using machines in the first place. From a commercial perspective, especially when building commercial real estate that needs to be completed and handed over as quickly as possible, the faster a job can be completed, the better the bottom line.
Sometimes called geofencing, containing costs for fuel and operations is a further strength with construction robots. Shortened schedules and improved fuel economy can be obtained with aerial drones mapping out the site and beaming the data to the machines, providing optimised and resourceful work patterns for work to be done.
Much of this self-driving, nascent technology is still in the planning stages, and it includes things like trucks and cars for public roads. It’s difficult to predict when these autonomous vehicles will be in widespread use on construction sites, but one indicator is that there is usually some lag time before the construction industry catches up with the carmakers. However, despite this, there are already several machines in use in the construction sector.
The autonomous track loader is one such technology. Receiving project plans and instructions via a smart tablet, this machine can dig and grade large spaces and perform tasks for the foundation. It performs its tasks by accessing accurate real-time data from GPS systems and various other sensors.
Autonomous mining trucks have been in operation since 2008, in countries like Australia. These also use GPS data to transport their ore cargo. These autonomous vehicles operate 24 hours a day and have moved billions of tonnes of materials since they were first used.
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