Autonomous technology has started to creep into the work site. In construction, we have seen autonomous vehicles gain traction. What comes next for the world of construction? What autonomous innovations are on the horizon? Here are just some headed our way.
Monitor Worker Safety
Safety is a huge consideration during construction. For good reason. Currently, a construction worker with a 45 year long career has a 1 in 200 risk of a being fatally injured at some point in their career.
One of the most dangerous situations for a worker is walking or driving around a site. Researchers at Abu Dhabi University wanted to address this danger with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors.
What is the Internet of Things? The Internet of Things is a web of devices and people connected through the internet. These devices are all sharing data about the environment and the people interacting with the environment.
Some examples of IoT devices are “smart” microwaves that can cook your food perfectly, or self-driving cars that interact with the environment and avoid hazards.
The Abu Dhabi University IoT sensors help to detect and identify workers. There are two IoT-based autonomous, power saving, and real-time sensing systems – a wearable one for the worker and one attached to the rear of the vehicle.
When a worker enters an area with high hazards, set by the construction supervisor, the sensor detects that and alerts the worker of the danger. Just by being aware of the danger, workers can be more alert and avoid hazards.
Romu: A Robot Built for Anchoring
Researchers with Harvard University and University of Stuttgart wanted to advance the autonomous technology in construction beyond its current capabilities.
They identified anchoring material is an essential part of construction. This is also an area of construction that has been ignored by autonomous vehicle and innovation research.
Anchoring material is when workers drive posts or sheet piles into the soil. These piles or posts are then used as the foundation for the rest of the construction.
Melenbrink et al. developed Romu – a fully autonomous, wheeled robot that is capable of driving posts or sheet piles.
Romu uses a vibratory hammer and its own body mass to drive piles and posts. Conventional pile driving equipment can only use a fraction of its body weight. Romu is designed to use 100%, making it more efficient and capable.
Melenbrink et al. tested Romu’s ability to drive interlocking sheet piles with no human intervention.
Unlike conventional methods, Romu grips the sheet piles or posts to the side of its body. This allows it to drive any length of pile. Conventional methods drive the piles from the top – limiting pile length.
Romu is currently equipped to carry three sheet piles at a time. Once all three are installed Romu travels to a cache to collect three more piles – all without the intervention of a human.
The researchers studied the use of a variety of materials such as wood posts and t-posts. The goal was to design Romu to install any kind of commercially available post vs. needing specially designed posts.
Melenbrink et al. is hopeful Romu can be used to increase efficiency at work sites. There is still work to be done. “To broaden the utility of such robots in field settings,” they said, “directions for future work include refinement of the hardware for improved operation in more terrains, increased capabilities for fuller autonomy, and integration with other construction tasks for more complex projects.”