Scientists at the University at Buffalo have constructed a robot that they believe will be the future of construction in Buffalo and throughout the world. In years to come, a skilled mason will simply don a pair of “smart glasses”, which would 3D-scan the site before sending a series of construction commands to a robot that would then scale the structure. The robot would be tasked to place and secure the bricks in safe and efficient manner, while the mason, developer and/or architect would be monitoring from afar.
The seemingly sci-fi team behind this real life endeavor is made up of Michael Silver, assistant professor of architecture (self-taught roboticist), and Karthik Dantu and Nils Napp (assistant professors of computer science and engineering).
In the near future, the On-Site Construction Robot (OSCR) will not only ensure that building projects are run safely, they will also help to speed up the process and handle difficult tasks that might not be suited for human hands. More complex arrangements of bricks would also be possible – something that would be too costly for humans to construct.
Currently, the 18 inches tall, 6 pound robot is able to scale ladders carrying up to three bricks at a time. At the time of the launch, it is expected that the robot will increase that capacity to five bricks in one run.
“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.”
Silver’s students interacted with masons throughout the process, inquiring about the difficulties of the job, and what might make the work safer and quicker. The robotic work began with a 3-D printer, that allowed the students to study plastic parts that would ultimately be upgraded with more durable, lightweight materials.
“The engineers have the technical expertise, and what we bring to it is the spirit of making,” Silver says. “Many of my students come from a construction background, and they’re very interested in how they can make this tool useful in industry.”
Already the American Institute of Architects and the New York State Council on the Arts are supporting the research and production of such complex, nimble-moving robots. At this point, work is underway on the development of the “smart glasses” which will allow the mason to interact with the robot.
“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.”
Photo credit: Paul Qaysi | UB News