The titans of the tech industry have been warning the public of their growing concern of robotic intelligence, i.e. machine learning. They say these systems will become so sophisticated that they could phase humans out of labor industries. Intelligent machines are becoming more reactive to a wide range of variables on the job site and reducing project costs to the extent that the role of field personnel is changing. Some speculate the blue-collar worker is at risk while others predict that their role will change.
It is true. We are embarking upon an industrial renaissance. The experimentation of robotics and machine learning technologies on the job site is just a preview of things to come. 3D printing is becoming a way to produce buildings that are more affordable and quick to assemble, in some cases, taking hours to build a simple structure. Job sites are currently using robots for groundwork like pouring foundations and brick laying - a task a robot can perform 6 times the rate per hour when compared to a human brick layer. As efficiencies continue to be unearthed, the modern job site will continue to look for ways to bring on the robots.
Robots not only deliver efficiencies they can offer up a unique perspective. Drones assist project managers who want to monitor project progress and build on a large scale. They have the ability to communicate with driverless vehicles such as dozers or excavators on the jobsite by sending surveyed 3D models to plot the their course before construction. Firms like Komatsu have started producing and leasing automated machines that can be driven from the office or job site trailer. Little by little, construction professionals are using robots to facilitate a number of functions that assist and offer a perspective that cannot be acquired by humans.
Unfortunately, incorporating robotics on the job site will not be simple. Major builders are resistant because cost effective solutions offer marginal results when compared to their human counterpart. At this stage, the business case for replacing a human with a robot is not a convincing prospect in the short term. It is hard to incorporate robots to scale. The technology has yet to reach a price where robotics are an easy pitch. At this stage, most professionals are simply unfamiliar with how to integrate these technologies and there is little desire to change what is currently working.
Robots will not take over the workforce. The intent is to boost production, reduce job site injuries, and shorten project schedules. Until automated intelligence is able to adapt and react to unforeseen job site situations or conditions, like complicated brick-laying or understanding aesthetics, we will still see traditional construction workers playing integral roles. Robotics are mechanical innovations aimed to maximize efficiency so workers can focus on the complex tasks requiring creative thought, which cannot be performed by a machine. The human mind is still needed for finish details.
Creativity is a human phenomenon. There is no scientific theory that can explain how life creates itself or where creativity even comes from. Intelligent machines may be predictive but they will always lack the creativity and desire to break the rules defined by humans. The role of the construction worker will definitely change but in a way that reduces job site injury, eliminates inefficiencies and shortens project schedules.
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