If you build it, the robots will come, says Malek Murison, as he reports on how one startup sees the potential to make construction smarter, cheaper, faster – and safer.
Although the use of AI, robots, and autonomous systems in construction is on the rise, the industry remains “severely under-digitised”, according to research firm McKinsey. This lack of adoption is perhaps one reason why productivity has been flatlining in the sector for years.
So much so that most mega-projects overrun and go over budget. McKinsey estimates that 98 percent of mega-projects suffer cost overruns of more than 30 percent, with 77 percent overshooting their completion dates by 40 percent.
Clearly, new technologies, solutions, and methodologies are needed to reduce equipment inefficiencies and improve productivity – particularly when construction has knock-on urban impacts in terms of road closures, travel delays, and other disruptions.
Which is where Intsite enters the scene. The Israeli startup – founded last year by twin-brother engineers Tzach and Mor Ram-On – this week announced a $1.35 million funding round led by Terra Venture Partners and the Israel Innovation Authority.
The brothers’ aim is to push what they describe as the world’s first autonomous crane onto construction sites around the world.
The startup’s crane uses multiple camera feeds and computer vision software to build situational awareness of its working environment. The system can then make crane operators aware of nearby workers, and any obstacles within range that present a hazard.
It also uses that real-time visual data to automate the crane’s controls, improving movement precision by as much as 30 percent.
This is highly significant, as ‘crane time’ is one of the construction industry’s biggest costs. Bringing semi-autonomy, AI, and assembly-line methodologies onto building sites via smart cranes could drastically improve efficiency, profitability, and on-site safety.
Intsite says that its autonomous rigs can reduce crane time by as much as 20 percent – a major saving on an expensive resource. More, they could minimise the need to employ additional workers on site to monitor crane safety – subject to building and safety regulations.
The platform has already been put to work on sites operated by construction company Shikun & Binui Solel Boneh. Intsite plans to launch similar trials in the UK and France in 2019.
Transforming the construction industry
The company and its backers have high hopes for the future of construction and the adoption of autonomous cranes. “We are excited that Terra Venture Partners is supporting us on this journey, and I have a great faith in our growing team and solution,” said Tzach Ram-On.
“On a personal level, as a civil engineer, I am thrilled the construction sector is starting to reap the benefits of digital transformation.”
Terra Venture’s managing partner, Astorre Modena, believes that the construction industry has been slow to adopt emerging technologies and is ripe for transformation. He compared what autonomous cranes could do for the sector with the impact of Salesforce on marketing earlier this century.
“We believe the construction industry has vast potential for improving productivity and efficiency through digitalisation, innovative technologies, and new construction techniques,” he said.
“This sector is where marketing was 16 years ago before the introduction of Salesforce — less than one percent of revenues from construction are spent on software, compared to counterparts spending 3.5 to 4.5 percent. We’re excited for Intsite to realise its potential.”
Internet of Business says
Like farming, construction is one of the oldest industries on the planet, and holds out similar promise for incremental improvement via robotics, AI, the Internet of Things, sensors, edge computing, digital twins, smart supply chains, big data analysis, and other technologies, including autonomous transport.
The use of drones for building inspection and routine maintenance, for example, could drastically reduce the need for scaffolding – a slow, inefficient, and costly part of the building and repair process.
However, 3D printing is a technology that could have a more transformational impact on the sector, via prefabrication, and even the 3D printing of some low-cost, environmentally friendly buildings, as our report earlier this year explained:-
Additional reporting: Chris Middleton.