Robots as future labourers

We have to be careful about seeing the difference between that which is truly disruptive and events that are simply organic innovations of existing technology. This is never more true than in the area of construction – where, at least to the layman, technology appeared to be at a near-standstill for 50 years and yet has spawned more than 35 super-tall towers (ie, skyscrapers higher than 300m) in the last decade. It would be tempting to see this as a break-through in construction design, but the reality is that only one of these – Dubai’s Burj Khalifa – broke the mold and used anything other than relatively traditional steel-frame assembly.

Yes, but what about that day in 2015 when the world looked on aghast as Chinese developer Broad Sustainable Building constructed a 57-storey skyscraper in the city of Changsha in only 19 working days? Well, it’s true that the modular construction it used (building at a rate of three floors per day) hadn’t ever been used before on this scale, or indeed in the context of a skyscraper. But wait: factor in the reality that the 2,736 modular units actually took more than four months to construct before they ever arrived on the building site and you have a rather different timeframe – and a very different narrative.

In fact, if you want to see another dimension of Disruption in the construction sector,  there’s a ‘taller’ story that is truly stranger than fiction…

Autonomous robotics in space

Enter a German start-up, called Robotics X. They have a simple (yet dazzling!) remit: to create autonomous robotics that will construct the first buildings on Mars. Moreover, these are robots that will do so without constant supervision from earth and under the most extreme environmental conditions imaginable.

Forbes magazine, in the first-ever profile of the business, commented that: ‘Robotics X says that “If Elon Musk is going to Mars, our robots and systems will be the first passengers”. Their current focus is to perfect this technology and apply it to the “Digital Factory” to optimize manufacturing plants according to Industry 4.0 principles. Peter Boras, CEO & co-founder, said they are testing scaling up to 3,000 robots collaborating at once.’

This prophecies the kind of urban vision reminiscent of the creations of film director Fritz Lang 85 years ago.. Robotic gangs that are self-regulating and acting as autonomous entities, completely taking the place of human action.

Indeed, it’s this last phrase – ‘taking the place of human action’ – that really hints at what is most Disruptive in architecture and construction today. You don’t have to plan to go to Mars: the Disruption is much nearer to home. The latest super-talls have near-completely replaced the physical human inspections hitherto demanded by international Health & Safety legilslation – instead using drones with superb zoom-camera technology and nano-precise hover control. This not only dramatically reduces cost, but removes the need for potentially dangerous inspections, where skyscrapers demanded personal visual checks 90 floors up in a still-skeletal structure.

Just as the super-rapid construction of a 57-storey tower actually results from the preparation of materials literally on the ground – and over a period of several months – so the vision of building on Mars is founded on the reality of a sector already heavily committed to drones, big data, machine learning and 3D printing.

This article was attributed and provided by PG International


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