Enhanced Jobsite Presence with Site Robotics
Mobile robotics can be positioned for countless use cases on construction jobsites. Two use cases that HITT is initially focused on involve enhancing communication between superintendents and subcontractors and laying the foundation for automating various forms of reality capture on the jobsite.
The Problem We Face
The role of a superintendent can be a physically taxing career – facing year-round weather elements, constantly moving and monitoring the jobsite, climbing 10+ stories even with no elevator access, etc. Technology can enable workflows to become less physically taxing for our people in the field, who are the lifeblood of the company.
It’s also no secret contractors are struggling to hire experienced site operations roles and attract talent to the career path. Technology can attract new talent if general contractors are able to equip our site teams with tools that make their jobs more productive, safer, or less difficult from a physical standpoint.
Separate from team member experience, there is also an opportunity to address project-level data collection in an integrated and more efficient way.
Where We Are Now
In 2021, HITT commissioned Clearpath Robotics for an exploratory research phase that culminated in a proof of concept (POC). Selecting a rover-style unit was key to tackling large site developments such as in data centers and industrial complexes. As a POC, the robot was designed to test the basic functionality and initial use cases we are targeting, but certainly not a fully productized unit that answers all of our questions.
The rover has two-way communications, a suite of navigation and localization sensors, LiDAR for obstacle detection, and an autonomy package that can support planned mission paths it will travel throughout the jobsite.
At Co|Lab, the unit was energized and tested on a Robotics Terrain Park (an area of the lab set up to test the initial maneuverability of the robot). The first jobsite deployment occurred in Houston at a 300,000-sf logistics center. The team on-site was blown away at the camera’s zoom capability that could allow the robot to see details clearly from the opposite corner of the warehouse, streamlining inspection and monitoring from afar. The unit’s two-way communications included two-way audio and one-way video, so a superintendent could see and hear a subcontractor at a distance via a laptop.
People will not always be open to this enhanced level of monitoring, though, which we fully expect to encounter as more jobsite experiments are conducted. This will be a hurdle to the adoption of technology, but as teams, partners, and clients have grown more used to remote digital jobsite walkthroughs and check-ins throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, HITT sees technology like this as a gamechanger, providing valuable data insights while more efficiently connecting teams on-site.
The maneuverability of the unit met all metrics and expectations set forth, moving easily over small bumps or rough terrain and turning on a dime. In a construction environment that could look different each day, hardware agility was a key goal for the project. Initial safety processes were developed for this deployment and will continue to be fully developed as testing continues to ensure the program is designed with safety as its core.
Overall, the initial POC stage was highly successful, proving out the use cases and quickly identifying potential adjustments and tweaks to consider for continued development. Next, we are continuing to partner with Clearpath’s experts to iterate on the robot unit. By taking this agile project development approach, HITT R&D will consistently challenge every detail and process incorporated – it’s a different way of approaching a problem compared to sequenced phases, but ultimately fundamental to HITT’s R&D methodologies. HITT aims to formally develop the internal program for robotics use at scale in 2022 and 2023.
HITT’s new S.A.M. robot, developed in partnership with Clearpath