The 'bricklayer robots' lay their first stones

The robot revolution is also beginning to take shape in construction.

The 'bricklayer robots' lay their first stones

The robot revolution is also beginning to take shape in construction. Some initiatives with Spanish participation show the future of robotics in tasks that until now have required labor, such as building facades, examining energy efficiency or drilling the ground. They are pioneering projects that lay the foundations for change and seek to make the leap from prototype to action.

One example is the European Hephaestus project. The consortium, led by the Spanish company Tecnalia, explored different robot concepts for construction applications. The Spanish companies Cemvisa Vicinay and Acciona Construcción, the universities of Munich and Fraunhofer (Germany), CNRS Lirmm (France), Nlinkjas (Norway), Focchi SPA (Italy) and R2M Solution LTD (United Kingdom) also participated. Julen Astudillo, a researcher at Tecnalia's energy, climate and urban transition unit, coordinated the project.

"This cable robot - he explains - performs all the activities required to assemble a curtain wall-type facade in an automated way: make holes in a concrete floor, put anchor plates, screw them, take that curtain wall from a storage area , move it through the façade and finally place it on the anchor”.

Apart from reducing operator risks, increasing productivity and improving quality, this platform can achieve 20% cost savings and halve construction time. Two real demos were made. Despite the success achieved, its commercialization is not close, as Astudillo points out: «There are still five or ten years left before it can be in the works. We have shown that it is feasible to do so and now we must optimize the development.”

The experience has enabled Tecnalia to be immersed in another European project with a variation of the cable robot, but this time for cleaning port channels. “Tests are going to be carried out in an area of ​​the Venice lagoon. This robot moves horizontally and is mounted on a barge”, adds the researcher.

With an outdated real estate park, energy efficiency in Spain is quite deficient. To know the state of the buildings, a health audit is necessary. The current method is to place scaffolding on the façade, which annoys the neighbors and makes it difficult to take the appropriate measures. That is why the Robim project (Autonomous Robotics for the Inspection and Evaluation of Existing Buildings with BIM Integration) was born, with a consortium led by Euroestudios, in which FCC Construcción, Geotecnia y Cimientos, Insyte, Imatia Innovation and IBIM Building Twice have also participated. For its development they have been supported by the Polytechnic University of Madrid, the Polytechnic University of Valencia, the University of Vigo and the Technological Institute of Aragon (Itainnova). The project has been funded by the CDTI (Center for Industrial Technological Development).

David Díez, a researcher at Itainnova, recounts the process: «We opted for a giant self-manned ship, a kind of drone, which flies along the façade after establishing its route autonomously. It is a modular ship that can carry up to 12 sensors. Each one of them measures a parameter: ultrasound probes that analyze the structural failures of the walls, others examined the air chamber, leaks were also measured; There is even the possibility of taking samples of the façade itself to take it to the laboratory. Thanks to the robot, we were able to get a complete X-ray of the building.” Díez is convinced of the possibilities of this technology. "It is a project that opens the way to other applications, such as infrastructure maintenance: a dam, a bridge, a road or a railway," he says.

The European Badger project, led by the Carlos III University, has developed a microtunneling robot to build trenchless underground infrastructure. The doctor and professor of Systems and Automation Engineering at Carlos III, Santiago Martínez de la Casa, has been its technical coordinator. The Hellas Research and Technology Center (Greece), Glasgow University School of Engineering (United Kingdom), IDS Georadar Srl (Italy), Robotnik Automation SLL (Spain), Singular Logic S.A (Greece) and Tracto- Technik GMbH

The practical application of this robotic tunnel boring machine in underground environments, according to Martínez de la Casa, is "the rapid installation of communication lines, the rapid expansion of fiber lines and high-speed internet." "Telecommunications companies are interested in having a cheaper system that helps improve the speed and deployment of lines," he says.

The project has ended, but the university continues with the research: "We developed the prototype thanks to the financing of companies interested in the product, although it is still a long way from being able to market it." Apart from delving into tunneling technology, Martínez de la Casa and his team investigate robotics for the maintenance and inspection of tunnels, railway infrastructures and vehicle infrastructures.

Prototypes and some tests in real scenarios beyond our borders place the evolution of robotics in construction as one of the great possibilities of the sector: autonomous excavators, the SPOT dog that performs measurements on the construction site, masonry robots that are experts in laying bricks SAM100, Hadrian X and In Situ Fabricator1, and Doxel, capable of detecting errors in real time.