by Ti Zampino, Austin Young, Farah Wells, Joshua Wells, Riley Zeringue, Lianna Wiener, Mathias Zelaya, & Samer Yacaman
Let’s face it: we’ve been looking forward to robots taking over mundane jobs since The Jetsons first aired in 1962. But what we didn’t anticipate, or perhaps ignored, is the rise of robots replacing millions of jobs for millions of citizens across the globe. Drones, auto-piloted heavy machinery, and robots designed to work on repeatable tasks are taking over much construction work across the globe. But is the loss of jobs worth the improved safety and efficiency of this industry? Perhaps, this movement in robotics will open opportunities for displaced workers in other industries, or at higher levels than they previously could obtain. Regardless, the world is changing.
The top 10 leading countries in the construction robot industry, as recorded by the International Federation of Robotics in 2018, are
- South Korea (613 industrial robots/10K employees)
- Singapore (488 industrial robots/10K employees)
- Germany (309 industrial robots/10K employees)
- Japan (303 industrial robots/10K employees)
- Sweden (223 industrial robots/10K employees)
- Denmark (211 industrial robots/10K employees)
- United States (189 industrial robots/10K employees)
- Italy (185 industrial robots/10K employees)
- Belgium (184 industrial robots/10K employees)
- Taiwan (177 industrial robots/10K employees)
These numbers are, unsurprisingly, still on the rise. Various robots are being utilized for construction purposes. Auto-piloting, excavators, bulldozers, and masonry machines have been developed. Drones are being used in this industry for land surveying. All of these machines increase productivity and effectiveness, along with this is the increased migration of population from the construction industry into other more white collared industries.
An estimation by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute predicts that “by 2057, robots could replace or displace 2.7 million jobs in construction” (Walowsky, Kim, technative.io). As robots improve the speed and quality of construction work done, more jobs are being displaced. When an industry is automated, workers are often displaced. There exists robots for bricklaying and masonry construction, including robots that can lay an entire street all at once, build drywall, and lift heavy objects. Robots are being developed that are autonomous or remote-controlled, and some even have the ability to 3D print entire buildings. These types of robots dramatically enhance construction work speed, quality, efficiency and productivity. Robots for demolition are another form of robot that is about to break into mainstream applications. This system can do more than just enhance productivity it can improve safety, streamline collaborative activities and projects, and completely transform the workings of development teams. Building robots will have a significant impact on the construction industry. The new technology developing is forcing people to adapt to the more efficient, innovative ways of the future.
Humans are not adapting well with robots. Millions of construction workers will be displaced by robots due to the duties of the industry. Although there isn’t a large presence of robotics in construction today, change is coming fast, especially considering that 200,000 construction jobs were left unfulfilled recently. This event leaves the door wide open for robotics to improve upon the industry. Because robots are able to take over many simple jobs previously held by humans, the assignments humans would be needed for in future construction projects would be limited to design, development, and maintenance of new robots.
The incorporation of robots in the construction industry is different than that of other industries such as medicine or transportation. There is a level of creativity in this field humans can offer that robots have yet to match. Instead of totally displacing humans, robots will be utilized to supplement contractors. These robots are known as cobots, or collaborative robots. The robots are not meant to replace the humans in this industry, they are meant to introduce a more inviting atmosphere to this field of work. Construction with the previously stated elements of design and development require a lot of collaboration and human-interaction. The incorporation of robots might result in employee’s shying away from this creative process, however cobots are meant to encourage that. In addition to cobots, robots will also be used to give contractors more supervisional management positions rather than spending their time on tedious tasks such as measurements and masonry.
There are overall positive long-term ramifications of robot usage in this industry. With the decreased delays and over costs, businesses can expand with new buildings more efficiently in shorter periods of time as well as the construction business building these projects are able to do more work in shorter periods of time. In addition, as there is always going to be a need for homes in the market, the lower costs and shorter time frames to build homes will contribute to the housing market and possibly help families find more affordable housing options. Among the notable differences in the accuracy of these future projects, there are going to be requirements that a certain portion of construction projects must be done by robots. This is already evident in Dubai, where they recently implemented regulations by 2025, at least 25% of buildings must be constructed with 3-D printed material. Eventually, Smaller scale construction business will go out of business eventually with these displacements, however the large scale construction businesses will not because construction is a service people will always need to have an efficient economy.
In order to combat the immense future growth within this industry, institutions must teach critical skills such as high level thinking, reasoning abilities, and technical skills. The competition is pushing education towards long needed changes. “How we work” is turning into a competition with robots, but in order to work alongside that competition, “how we learn” needs to be changed. The cost of using robots increased by 55% from 2017, continuing this upward trend for the past five years. Investment for construction technology was estimated at $1.135 billion in funding for 2018. While robots make the manufacturing cost cheaper it is important that these employees are educated in technology to better adapt with the alternative blue-collar job mechanisms.
Technology is created to make jobs simpler, safer, and more efficient. It’s created to make life easier for people, and we should be changing along with the times. The endgame with robots in construction, as well as in all industries, is to make life better for all people. We must stop hiding from the idea that automation is going to ruin economies and lives. We must implement new ways to employ people, and develop jobs that value creativity to keep ahead of robots, so we can keep progressing and reach a safer, more efficient, and more sustainable society.
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