Construction Robots: Data Collectors
Science and science fiction often compete for the minds of the general population. The term “robot,” for example, can conjure up many different images, depending on the experience and movie going history of the listener. Engineers might imagine a machine doing repetitive work that bores humans while labor union leaders would see the same image as taking away jobs. Robotic designers have been seeking ways to make robots less threatening and more productive for generations, going so far as adding human features and voice to what amounts to a guided vehicle delivering food to patients in a hospital.
A standard robotic unit will have enough technology onboard to do the tasks it is designed for, including machine vision, object recognition, artificial intelligence, end-effectors capable of handling and manipulating the items it needs to assemble or work, and audio capabilities to caution humans in the vicinity to be careful. Sensors and connections allow the unit to “communicate” data it collects to a master or controlling computer via the cloud or Internet of Things. In return, the control will program the robot to do specific jobs at certain times and report back the results.
This is the area that makes or breaks a robotic implementation. Data is the core of robotic systems. The unit needs “work orders” and the manager needs reports. Putting a software program between the robot and the controller to make that data flow productive is critical. As robotic systems start to find their way onto construction jobsites, collecting and utilizing data will make them toys or trends.
Zepth, a construction industry-focused software supplier is collaborating with Boston Dynamics, a developer with a construction-oriented robot, as part of an early adopter program. The Zepth project management platform now offers users seamless integration with Boston Dynamics’ mobile robot Spot, enabling project teams to automate routine inspection tasks and capture data safely and with greater precision. The collaboration combines the data collection capabilities of Spot with Zepth’s intelligent technology, allowing users to draw insights from captured data to enhance efficiency, productivity, and collaboration throughout each phase of a project lifecycle.
The unique collaboration with Spot and Boston Dynamics will empower construction teams to work remotely from any location in the world. Zepth’s artificial intelligence combined with Spot’s sophisticated data collection capabilities enables teams to create a living digital record of the project, delivering enhanced quality and accuracy control. Project teams can generate actionable data and document progress without interrupting the daily workflow, leading to more informed decisions. The integration of Spot within the full suite of Zepth tools enhances efficiency across all phases of a construction project to improve productivity, quality, and safety.
In many cases, the construction sector struggles with outdated, inefficient, and disjointed technologies. Traditional site progress reporting requires human workers to manually capture data with cameras, resulting in differences in angles and light variations. The worker then uploads and manually organizes the data in a hard drive, cloud server, or service such as Dropbox, distributing the data to team members via email or a shared folder. Separate tools are needed to identify and annotate issues, create snag lists, assign tasks to team members, and track their resolution. The lengthy process can require upwards of eight or more separate tools and systems to catalogue, share, and analyze information, resulting in scattered communications, lack of transparency, and delays.
Spot’s autonomous, terrain-agnostic capabilities support the dynamic nature of the construction site and enable a standardized, precise data collection process. The project team can map a defined route for Spot to regularly and repeatedly capture consistent data, and the robot’s ability to traverse rough terrain and adapt to changing weather conditions allows it to safely capture as-built conditions on the site, even in hazardous and hard-to-reach areas. Spot can detect and pass obstacles to maintain its defined path and can be operated remotely.
Once Spot has safely and effectively captured the necessary project data, the question becomes: How do we analyze this data? A recent study has shown that nearly 95% of data in the construction industry is never utilized, according to FMI Corp. This is where Zepth’s intelligent project management modules become critical. Zepth enables project teams to transform that data into deeper insights about the project and drive data-driven decisions in real time, demonstrating how data can drive performance. Zepth360, the visual progress reporting module of Zepth, records progress over time using 360-degree images and supporting high-resolution 2D images captured by Spot.
Within Zepth360, the “Planview tool” enables users to save images to distinct locations on the floor plan. A simple click takes team members to multiple 360-degree and 2D photos for reference. The “compare” feature allows users to view two different photos of the same location at different times and compare progress. The entire project team can follow the visual progress through the “timeline” feature and review all changes that have taken place since the start of the project. Rather than requiring the manual creation of a separate report, Zepth360 can automate a visual progress tracking report for investors or stakeholders at any time.
Built-in markup and annotation features allow all users to identify and highlight snags in a photo and add notes or details. Any markup tracked in an image on Zepth360 will be transported in the Snag List module directly within the project workflow. Each Snag is linked to a photo that provides detailed insights. Because the Zepth modules exist in a common data environment, anyone on the project team can access all photos, comments, and details from the office or on-site. Users can identify snags, assign them to team members, and seamlessly see through their resolution without ever leaving the project ecosystem in Zepth.
In addition, Spot enables the creation of a “digital twin,” or a reconstruction of the as-built state of the building, using 3D laser scanning. By comparing the as-built reality with the as-planned execution in BIM, the project team can identify discrepancies early on and take corresponding corrective actions. Early detection of discrepancies provides for a detailed analysis of historical modeling data and adds a layer of information to support further decision-making processes. Digital twin technology also provides automatic resource allocation monitoring and waste tracking, allowing for a predictive and lean approach to resource management.
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