“Measure twice, cut once.” So goes the old construction adage. But most laborers in the field are still taking measurements by hand and then walking them over to the miter saw bench (a miter saw is a stationary saw with a pivoting arm that allows the saw to make cuts at different angles). It’s not only time-consuming but you can imagine that, over time, the measurements and cuts themselves wind up being imprecise and costing contractors money and – potentially – crushing their already thin profit margins.
Enter Velocity Robotics, which has ambitions to create products that enable a fully automated construction jobsite where measurements, material delivery, and cutting are all performed automatically by robots. Founded by Brad Kriel, a seven-year veteran of Caterpillar, the company is based in Pittsburgh and will be representing the city in the finals of AlphaLab Gear’s Hardware Cup in April. (AlphaLab Gear is a Pittsburgh-based hardware accelerator, incubating companies developing Internet of Things, robotics, wearables, and other hardware devices.)
The miter saw product – called Autoset – works by receiving measurements from a Bluetooth-connected tape measure. It passes them into a stopper that’s attached to the miter saw bench which automatically adjusts itself to the correct measurement. Multiple measurements can load into the stopper at the same time – so contractors can perform multiple measurements without making multiple trips from the field to the saw, saving time.
Over the course of a two-month construction job, a fifty percent increase in efficiency at the miter saw could shave two to three days off the schedule for a typical construction company. Velocity Robotics hopes to have the Autoset available for sale later this year at a $499 price point.
Autoset sounds like just the tip of the iceberg for Velocity Robotics. Kriel says eventually he envisions an entirely automated cut station for construction projects. Saws would adjust automatically to required measurements, lumber would load and cut automatically, and autonomous robotic vehicles would move materials and equipment around the site.
Analysis from AEC Labs:
We haven’t discussed robotics much – yet – here at AEC Labs, but its potential to dramatically transform the construction industry is significant. Humans make lots of mistakes – from measuring lumber cuts incorrectly to making design errors and omissions. Automating elements in the construction supply chain that are fraught with potential for human error has a great deal of potential to improve efficiencies and make construction safer, cheaper, and faster. Of course, with those promises come pitfalls – like the number of construction jobs that could disappear, or the potential battles with labor unions. (Already, for example, the Teamsters union is saying they will not agree to any new contract with UPS that allows the delivery service to use drones.)
But in time those issues will work themselves out. Imagine buildings that could clean and fix themselves – or as envisioned in AECOM’s “Without Limits” report, infrastructure that can self-diagnose defects or maintenance needs, order new materials and parts, have them delivered by drone, and fixed on-site by robots. The amount of savings and boosts in productivity would be substantial for the entire industry; companies that capitalize on, deploy, and scale robotics technologies will undoubtedly enjoy a significant competitive advantage within the AEC industry over the next few decades.
We expect to talk much more about robotics and the issues they present for the construction industry during the rest of 2018.