Glimpse at the future of construction? | Ralph Lauren

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A robot has successfully built a two-storey structure in High Wycombe, but experts say Western Australia is still a long way off from robot-built homes.

The structure was built by Hadrian X – a product of automation company FBR – using rebar, reinforced concrete pillars and a suspended slab.

The two-storey build was a first for FBR and was constructed at the company’s premises in a building style typically found in developing markets such as Mexico.

FBR CEO Mike Pivac said the project showcased the safety and efficiency of robotic construction and was a substantial step in the commercialisation of FBR’s technology.

“In many parts of the world our customers want to be able to build two-storey structures safely, quickly and efficiently, and we have now demonstrated the Hadrian X can deliver on those customer needs,” he said.

“We have also taken this opportunity to demonstrate our ability to work with a range of design elements, like steel-reinforced concrete columns, which may be required in certain geographies due to factors such as seismic activity, weather patterns or custom.”

Despite the significant tech step, The University of Western Australia Associate Professor Rob Cameron said WA often lagged behind the rest of the world when it came to construction industry innovation, so it may take some time for new technologies to be adopted.

He said robots were already used in WA in niche circumstances, such as for the installation of public artwork and architectural facades, but were more likely to be seen in Europe and Asia.

However, in a future where robots were widely used in construction, the professor – whose research focuses on the impacts of emerging technologies on cities and public spaces – said homebuyers were likely to benefit.

“If the building and construction industry can transition towards an integrated model of production similar to the automotive or aeronautical industries then the savings made through reducing construction times, labour, and waste will dramatically reduce the cost of housing,” Dr Cameron said.

“When it comes to luxury there is much opportunity for robotics to lead to the mass customisation of architecture, however, I suspect the level of choice available to consumers will depend on how much they are willing and able to spend, regardless of the actual cost of construction.”

According to Dr Cameron, robotic construction paired with architects and urban designers also has the potential to positively impact sustainability, reduce waste, improve building energy efficiency and make buildings more durable and adaptive.

However, he said there was a strong history of automation creating a host of problems in different sectors, that residential construction would not necessarily be immune from.

“There is the incentive for developers to use these technologies to dramatically increase profits without improving the quality of buildings,” Dr Cameron said.

“Much like in other industries, such as with smart phones, automation could lead to the mass proliferation of cheap products made with toxic materials, planned obsolescence and increased waste, and the loss of many jobs within the construction industry.”

Though robot-built homes are an uncertain concept, Dr Cameron said Australia’s burgeoning cities were the perfect place to test ideas for housing.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Perth has a population of more than 1.9 million, with the State Government predicting a population blowout to 3.5 million by 2050.

“With the growth of Australian cities predicted to continue at a rapid pace, we have the potential to lead the world in finding more sustainable forms of housing,” Dr Cameron said.

“To achieve this we need to be funding more research into this sector, not just in relation to the technologies of construction, but importantly in the design of the buildings they produce.”



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