March of the Machines: Robots Rise at CONEXPO

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CONEXPO in Las Vegas

Autonomous Machines Make Waves at CONEXPO 2020

One of the hot topics at CONEXPO 2020 was how autonomous machines will factor into the future of construction. If you ask some, the future is now. Many companies are already rolling out completely autonomous machines, while others are retrofitting off-the-shelf equipment with autonomous software.

Multiple seminars at CONEXPO discussed the topic of robotics in the construction industry, so we decided to plug in on the discussion.

Is autonomous equipment the future?

Tech experience panel at CONEXPO

The Tech Talk stage featured a discussion with Noah Ready-Campbell from Built Robotics and Eric Sellman of Mortenson, a big construction industry player responsible for the new football stadium in Las Vegas (future home of the NFL’s Raiders), among other projects.

Mortenson is already using Built’s retrofitted software to create autonomous machines at the job site. Ready-Campbell and Sellman say autonomous machines can improve project margins, transform timelines, and create a safer work environment for employees. They used the example of an operator showing up for work, turning on the machine, and then turning it off before leaving at the end of the day.

“But it can’t just be a science experiment,” said Ready-Campbell. “Autonomy must make us more productive.”

A solution for the labor shortage

Playing into the autonomy discussion at CONEXPO what how to address the ongoing shortage of labor in the construction industry. Over 80% of contractors can’t currently find skill trade positions, as baby boomers retire, and younger generation turn away from the industry. 
Autonomous machines can fill the gap, says Ready-Campbell. However, automation takes more than robots. You need training and integration into operations.
Cameron Clark, who is a business manager at Trimble and hosting a seminar at CONEXPO called “How Autonomous Construction Machines Will Revolutionize the Construction Industry believes autonomous machines represent a big opportunity. 
“It’s hard to do the work we have now,” said Clark. “With growing infrastructure and energy needs there is going to be increased demand for work in developing nations. If we can’t find people in developed nations, what are we going to do in developing nations?”

BOMAG rolls out autonomous ROBOMAG

BOMAG autonomous roller

Turning some heads at CONEXPO 2020 was BOMAG’s fully autonomous tandem roller, called the ROBOMAG. The German manufacturing says ROBOMAG can detect objects and avoid collisions by combining guidance technologies such as GPS, Lidar, and positioning sensors. The eye-catching machine, which looks like something Robocop would enjoy riding, represents the company’s “vision for the not-too-distant future.”

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