In November of 2020, Foster + Partners announced a collaboration with the robotics design company Boston Dynamics. Together, the two have been testing Boston Dynamics’ robot dog, Spot, to help capture and monitor progress on construction sites. The robot boasts the dexterity to climb stairs, avoid obstacles, and traverse rough terrain, allowing it to monitor building sites and collect data quickly and easily. In this way, designers and contractors can remedy errors rapidly and at minimal cost, ensuring that projects progress according to their set timeframes and budgets. With manual data collection, errors might be noticed at a much slower rate and communication between contractors may suffer as well. Thus, Spot optimizes construction monitoring and on-site collaboration.
To do so, the robot can be controlled remotely or programmed to follow a predetermined route, allowing it to routinely track progress with utmost precision, speed, and consistency. This consistency also improves data quality, rendering collected data points optimally comparable and allowing designers to construct highly accurate and reliable models. These models, which may combine environmental conditions, occupant behaviors, and other variables, predict how well a design will perform and allow designers to anticipate and fix problems even before they occur.
Boston Dynamics and Foster + Partners tested Spot on two sites: Foster + Partner’s London campus and their mixed-use project Battersea Roof Gardens. In the former, they were able to use Spot to construct a digital four-dimensional model of the campus, while in the latter, they set up Spot to scan and record certain areas of the construction. Both experiments proved the success of the technology in practice.
However, the collaboration is important not only for the explicit benefits of the Spot robot technology itself, but for its testimony to the larger trend of increasing automation and digitalization in the construction industry. Spot is only one of many new technologies designed to improve the construction process by decreasing costs, maximizing efficiency, and opening up new design possibilities. For example, last year we covered the automated construction robot CU-Brick, which is able to precisely place bricks with a very small margin of error. More widely, digital construction aids such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) have proliferated in the past decade, improving construction through visualization and coordination rather than through mechanical processes as with CU-Brick. Spot combines aspects of both types of mechanization and digitalization, pointing forward to the inevitable direction of the rapidly evolving construction industry.
Will Spot, or robots like it, become widely used in the future? It’s too early to say anything with complete certainty, but it seems that regardless, the construction industry is heading further and further toward robotization. As architecture firms and robotics companies increasingly collaborate to this end, it is their prerogative to take advantage of the possibilities maximally but also ethically—paving the way toward a more efficient, better future for construction.