— In Congress today,
a House subcommittee approved draft legislation
that would allow manufacturers to put up to
100,000 driverless vehicles per year on the road.
It’s a step towards robots
replacing us behind the wheel—
and phasing out taxi and truck drivers.
That’s a ways off,
but there’s one robot named SAM
who doesn’t need anyone’s permission to operate.
SAM’s a bricklayer,
and is very good at its job.
— This is SAM.
It’s a robot put together with off-the-shelf-parts
by a company called Construction Robotics.
It looks more like a chest freezer than C3PO.
But it can lay more than 3,000 bricks a day
once it gets going.
The best human masons can do about 1,000.
And SAM never makes mistakes, or gets tired.
The company has six of them,
building walls across America.
— The efficiency on construction sites
has been very stagnant,
or declined in the last 20, 30 years,
whereas manufacturing efficiency
has increased significantly.
And a lot of that is due to robotics and technologies.
We looked at a lot of different applications
and tried to hone in on areas where you had
repetitive motion, a lot of physical activity…
— What are the pieces that make it up and
how do they work together to help it lay a wall?
— We have some sensing technology
that looks at the laser
that’s mounted to the wall in the story pole system,
corrects for the movement on the scaffold,
puts the brick right where it’s supposed to go.
We have a mortar system that tempers the mortar,
measures the mortar,
and applies the mortar to the brick.
We have a bunch of electronics,
a bunch of sensors,
and then onboard power.
That’s all there is to it.
— The day I was there,
SAM laid a record 3,267 bricks in eight hours—
though the robot still requires
at least two humans to do finishing work
and feed it bricks and mortar
as it moves along the scaffold.
Overall, the robot has laid 50,000 bricks on the site
since June 1st.
— So if we’re looking at
a construction site in 15, 20 years,
how does it look different to this?
— There’ll probably be maybe a little bit less workers,
but really it’s about smarter
and more efficient equipment.
— Does that give you any pause
when you develop robots?
— We look at jobsite robots in particular
as really a way to augment the worker.
— But, I mean, with respect,
every industry that starts to automate
has that same line—
they say it’s going to augment the worker.
And, of course, for a little while,
it does augment the worker.
But in five years time, if you have your way,
if your robot gets so much more efficient
and so much more cost efficient,
maybe that automation slips
into something a little different.
— There’s a huge amount of variation on the job site,
and I see humans continuing to be
part of the loop for a long time.
— The truth about robots
is that nobody completely knows when or even
how they will start to truly affect the economy.
The consulting company McKinsey said earlier this year,
that more than half of the U.S. economy
could be automated by 2055.
But that prediction, McKinsey warned,
might be out by 20 years in either direction.
Those on the front lines—
the masons on the site—
had very different views about SAM:
— How many bricks can you lay in a day by yourself?
— Have you seen the robot up there?
— Does it worry you?
— Are you worried about your job in the future?
— Peters told me that SAM has doubled in
in the few years that Construction Robotics
has been working on it,
and that the company is currently building other
robots to augment repetitive construction jobs.
— There will be a tipping point where you
almost can’t compete with the robots,
from an efficiency standpoint,
and in order to do a job
to any level of efficiency, of any scale or size,
you will need the robots to be able to achieve that.
— Do you understand why that might be
a little unsettling to a mason?
Bottom line is that young people
don’t want to go into masonry.
They don’t wanna go into
these hard, difficult, dangerous tasks
that people 50 years ago
would absolutely love to go into.
— And do you think robots can fill that gap?
— In some cases they may completely fill it.
But I think there’ll be other opportunities for
different style careers in construction as time goes on.
It’s just the job looks a little bit different
going down the road
because it’s interacting with a robot.