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Construction Corner - The robot-powered construction revolution

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by Korky Koroluk last update:Sep 3, 2014

It's probably safe to say that the development of robot technology is likely to change the face of the construction industry more than any other single technology that's in the pipeline.
Korky Koroluk
Korky Koroluk

It's probably safe to say that the development of robot technology is likely to change the face of the construction industry more than any other single technology that's in the pipeline.

I’ve written about small airborne robots that are capable of doing inspections in places where it’s awkward (or unsafe) to send human inspectors. I’m thinking here of parts of bridges, or tunnels, or wharves. Robots can search collapsed buildings, where entry by humans is simply too perilous to consider.

People are now considering robotic inspections in cases of nuclear accidents. A robot could go in and do an inspection, using wireless transmission to send out high-definition images.

The robot would be contaminated in the course of its work, of course, but it wouldn’t matter. It would simply be left inside after it’s done its job.

Robots are already being used for demolition work, which is always dirty work and can sometimes be dangerous as well.

Such robots probably wouldn’t be considered robots by some, though. They have operators nearby with a control box, so they’re really remote-controlled devices.

The robot doesn’t operate autonomously, like the brick-laying robots I’ve written about.

The key thing is that for demolition robots, the operator is standing back, out of harm’s way.

Now we have word of a new autonomous demolition robot that recycles materials as it works. It’s the brain child of Omer Haciomeroglu, a student at Sweden’s Ulme Institute of Design, who won a design competition with it.

It’s called the ERO Concrete Recycling Robot, and it demolishes concrete structures, turning waste into an asset.

High-pressure water is the tool Haciomeroglu chose to work with.

A jet of water breaks up the concrete, resulting in a mix of aggregate, cement and water, which is vacuumed up and separated. The aggregate and filtered cement slurry is sent to a packaging unit elsewhere on the site.

Clean aggregate is packed into big bags, which are labelled and sent to precast plants for reuse.

If it’s dealing with reinforced concrete, the robot cleans the rebar of concrete, dust and rust, leaving it ready to be cut and reused.

One observer, after watching the robot in action, said it’s as if the machine “erased an entire building.”

But not all buildings, of course. It doesn’t deal with structural steel.

That still has to be cut up and sent back to the mill.

These aren’t large machines. Parked, it’s only 180 cm tall and 85 cm wide.

At work, the tracks on which it runs are 160 cm apart. The small size means the robot can work in restricted spaces. It also means that they will most often be deployed in “fleets” of half a dozen or more machines.

After operators place the robots strategically within the building they’re to take down, they scan the surroundings and determine just how they will approach the job.

Then they go to work.

This concept seems to be a winner on a number of fronts.

Heavier machines used in demolition consume a lot of energy. Water has to be sprayed liberally to control dust.

The rubble has to be trucked to recycling stations, where it’s separated. Power crushers are used to pulverize the concrete, and the rebar goes back to the mill to be turned into other steel products.

The robot is electrically powered, but it produces some of its own energy. The machine’s packaging unit not only provides vacuum suction, but some electricity, as well.

Turbulence dynamos placed within the suction tubing provide some of the robot’s power and most of the water used is recycled back into the system.

The robot isn’t in commercial production yet, but Haciomeroglu has successfully proven the concept, and a news release from the Ulme Institute says that “influential organizations are starting to take note.”

Korky Koroluk is a regular freelance contributor to the Journal of Commerce. Send comments or questions to editor@journalofcommerce.com.

last update:Sep 3, 2014

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