Emerging robotics technology, say the researchers, may soon help construction companies and contractors create buildings in less time at higher quality and at lower costs. The researchers’ custom end effector design allows for material to be both placed and fastened in the same operation using the same arm – limiting the amount of equipment that is required to complete a given task.

“Our work helps to address workforce shortages in the construction industry by automating key construction operations,” says Jiansong Zhang, an assistant professor of construction management technology in the Purdue Polytechnic Institute. “On a construction site, there are many unknown factors that a construction robot must be able to account for effectively. This requires much more advanced sensing and reasoning technologies than those commonly used in a manufacturing environment.”

Toward that end, the researchers developed computer vision algorithms for the project that allow the robotic system to sense building elements and match them to building information modeling (BIM) data in a variety of environments, and keep track of obstacles or safety hazards in the system’s operational context.

“By basing the sensing for our robotic arm around computer vision technology, rather than more limited-scope and expensive sensing systems, we have the capability to complete many sensing tasks with a single affordable sensor,” says Zhang said. “This allows us to implement a more robust and versatile system at a lower cost.”

The technology was developed with support from the National Science Foundation. Undergraduate researchers in Zhang’s Automation and Intelligent Construction (AutoIC) Lab helped create the robotic technology.

The researchers say they are looking for partners to continue developing and commercializing their technology.

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