Applied Off-site and On-site Collective Multi-Robot Autonomous Building Manufacturing

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Computer Science

Abstract

Construction is significantly behind other UK sectors in productivity, speed, human safety, environmental sustainability and quality. In addition to inadequate building supply and affordability in the UK, humanitarian demand and economic opportunity for construction is set to increase substantially with global population growth over the next 40 years. However, with an aging work-force and construction considered to be one of the most dangerous working environments, the industry needs to explore radically new approaches to address these imminent challenges. While increased off-site manufacturing provides a partial solution, its methods are not easy to automate. Where individual mass-produced parts can be moved efficiently through production assembly lines that separate workers from dangerous machinery, building manufacturing involves mass-customisation or one-off production at a larger scale. This requires machinery and people to move around, and potentially work inside of a fixed manufacturing job e.g. a prefabricated or on-site house, as various independent and parallel tasks are undertaken in safety-compromised, overlapping work-zones. To address these issues, this project investigates fundamentally new operational and delivery strategy for automation to offer new ways of working with robots.

Automation of shared construction environments requires robotic capabilities to be flexible and adaptive to unpredictable events that can occur (indoors or outdoors). Social insects such as termites, despite their small size and individual limitations, show an ability to work collectively to design and build structures of substantial scale and complexity; by quickly and efficiently organising themselves while also providing flexible, scalable coordination of many parallel tasks. Inspired by this model of manufacture, this project will develop an innovative multi-agent control framework that enables a distributed team of robots to operate in a similar way for the manufacture and assembly of buildings undertaken by off-site manufacture, on-site construction, or hybrid solutions using on-site factories. This requires the enhancement of existing robots, and development of new capabilities for collision avoidance and collaborative working. As many building tasks require specialist equipment, heterogenous teams comprised of different robot platforms such as agile mobile ground vehicles (UGVs), aerial vehicles (UAVs), alongside larger scale industrial robot arm, track and gantry systems, will be able to collaborate, and collectively undertake tasks beyond the capabilities of each individual robot such as lifting objects heavier than any one robot's payload capacity.

To address construction relevant challenges, we will integrate capabilities for additive manufacturing, manipulation and assembly for building and building-component scale manufacture, in addition to computational means for individual robots to make local decisions. The final research deliverable will be the demonstration of the world's first collective multi-robot building manufacturing system that can autonomously build parts such as a façade or roof, assemble a structure, or construct a freeform building pavilion. We will also integrate these technologies within prototype building systems themselves, to create a new type of 'active' building that can use a multi-agent system to self-regulate energy and harvest data to provide a closed operational ecology between design, manufacturing, construction and building use, revolutionizing the way we manufacture, operate and use buildings. Further, evaluation frameworks will be developed to assess multi-robot construction and obtain objective measures for collective systems to deliver greater resource efficiency, quality, speed, safety and up-time compared with established construction methods. In doing so, we will establish new metrics quantifying the impact of these technologies from both economic and environmental perspectives.

Planned Impact

The three main impact beneficiaries are the construction sector, society at large and the environment. The Collective Multi-Robot Autonomous Building Manufacturing system proposed in this application can provide substantial benefits by delivering the world's first autonomous multi-robot solution to off-site and on-site building manufacturing and construction. Such a system engenders the following benefits to the three beneficiaries as follows:

CONSTRUCTION
Global construction market growth is estimated to be worth GBP15 trillion by 2025, with 2 billion in population growth [1]. This represents substantial economic opportunity for the UK construction industry however, there is a predicted 20-25% decline in the construction labour force over the next decade due to an aging work-force [2]. UK productivity is already behind competing nations, with estimates that a G7 worker can achieve a task in 80% of a UK worker's time [2]. Further, Construction is an extremely dangerous activity, accounting for 2-3 times as many worker fatalities and non-fatal injuries than other industries [3]. This research would improve worker safety, provide logistic flexibility and profitability in the following ways:

-Productivity: increased up-time, and continuous manufacture through autonomous and scale-able resource allocation.
-Speed: Parallel operation combined & robot production provides a significant speed boost.
-Flexibility/Adaptation: Enables a shift away from fragmented approaches to a flexible, scale-able solution, by providing a framework which could be incorporated into many different manufacturing activities and utilized in diverse environmental and factory settings.
-Health & Safety: Reducing human labour for heavy lifting, working at height, and incorporation of collision avoidance capabilities for mobile vehicles will significantly decrease the three primary causes of worker fatality and injury [3].
-Quality: Multi-robot collaboration for off-site manufacture & on-site construction will decrease error tolerances of building manufacture and assembly, enabling high-precision design and manufacture, greater performance metrics and finish quality.
-Real-time BIM & Asset Management: Real-time monitoring and ID of BIM building assets will enable a continuous feedback loop between design, construction & digital means of performance evaluation, enabling highly efficient design and project management.

SOCIETY
Affordable buildings: While the UK Government pledged to construct 1 million new homes by 2020 and another half a million by 2022, Parliament noted there is no clear strategy on how to produce the quantity of housing in this period or to address affordability of housing [2]. The construction benefits listed above will significantly reduce the cost of construction and help achieve construction targets through expedited means of construction. Digitalization of construction is estimated to pass on GBP3bn in cost savings to consumers [4].

ENVIRONMENT
Digitalization of construction is estimated to create a 365,000 tCO2e reduction by 2027[4]. Increases in precision of building construction can allow methods such as additive manufacturing to reduce material waste and use, aligning design and filigree material placement with structural performance requirements, and through quantitative analysis possibilities of the autonomous manufacturing process relative to environmental impact performance metrics. The proposed smart building components will also regulate and distribute data and energy throughout buildings adaptively relative to environmental and energy demands, providing local environmental adaptation at sub-building scales, boosting building use environmental efficiency.
1.Construction 2025 Industrial Strategy: government & industry in partnership
2.The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model: Modernise or Die
3.Health & safety statistics for the construction sector in Great Britain
4.Made Smarter: Review2017
 
Description To address poor productivity, speed and human safety metrics in UK construction requires a fundamentally different solution to other manufacturing sectors. Unlike assembly-line production, building manufacturing involves mass-customisation at a large scale. Machinery and people are required to move around and inside of a manufacturing job, operating in hazardous or overlapping work-zones. A strategy for automation is proposed that enables adaptive, collaborative and parallel operation by a heterogeneous team of robots to collectively manufacture and assemble aspects of buildings and building parts by off-site manufacture or on-site construction. This involves developments to extend capabilities of mobile robot platforms, team-based planning and coordination, sensing and localization and manufacturing tasks in mobile ground and aerial robots, industrial robot arms, tracks, or gantry systems. The research will evaluate performance metrics and involve stakeholder engagement to facilitate a step change in UK building construction that will be developed and tested in manufacturing demonstrators.
Exploitation Route - utilisation of new hardware and software toolkits
- formalisation of methodologies for capturing data to encourage the uptake of autonomous robotic systems for on-site and off-site construction
- case studies validating the use of autonomous systems within construction
- pilot commercial collaborations to evaluate TRL for specific construction tasks
Sectors Construction

 
Description - Current findings have supported engagement and formation of new collaborations with industrial partners that otherwise wouldn't be possible - Continued development of research facilities at HereEast to support studies in large-volume robotic construction
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Construction
Impact Types Economic

 
Description EPSRC ORCA Hub - Partnership Fund
Amount £163,901 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2020 
End 12/2020
 
Description Atkins Group 
Organisation WS Atkins
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution - Development of metrics and data methodologies usable for capturing on-site construction activity related to evaluating MMC performance - Introduction and review of measurement technologies to encourage data-driven approaches to increasing on-site productivity using MMC
Collaborator Contribution - Providing access to a range of construction stakeholders - Guidance on practical feasibility of applying data capture technologies on-site
Impact Project award to monitor and report on MMC performance across Homes England's MMC Pilot Projects
Start Year 2019
 
Description MTC - Industrial development of UCL technologies 
Organisation Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution - exposed new methods to MTC regarding the mobile coordination of heterogeneous robots - providing opportunities for the MTC to engage with UCL to co-develop demonstrator systems aligned with the CIH
Collaborator Contribution - Analysis of UCL technologies to provide advice on next steps for these results to become industry rated - Proposals for an electric energy chain suitable for a 60Kg payload industrial arm - Highlight existing results and lessons learnt related DECLAIM (de-centrailised networks for controlling autonomous robots) to update existing UCL infrastructure at HereEast - Outline proposals for demonstrators to be integrated at the MTC
Impact - Joint workshops at the MTC and UCL
Start Year 2019
 
Company Name BEHAVIOURAL ROBOTICS LTD 
Description Behavioural Robotics Ltd is a university spin-off company led by internationally recognised academics: Dr Mirko Kovac?, Dr Vijay M. Pawar and Robert Stuart-Smith. Collectively, the team's expertise spans the individual sciences of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (RAI), in addition to their application of autonomous construction solutions for the Built Environment. Specifically, the team has a research and innovation focus on developing collaborative mobile robotic solutions to increase off-site and on-site productivity. This company has been dormant until the start of this grant. 
Year Established 2015 
Impact - engagement with potential first customers and collaboration engagements
 
Description ARUP - collaboration forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact - series of presentations to explore opportunities between UCL and ARUP for engagement
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Advances in 3D concrete printing and construction automation. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Hosted at Loughborough University, this was a two-day event on advances in 3D concrete printing and construction automation.

This consisted of both an international workshop and a technical committee meeting. The event featured a number of expert speakers and provided various opportunities for networking. The speakers shared visions of the future industry from the recently funded 'Transforming Construction' initiatives that underpin the UK's Industrial Strategy: Construction Innovation Hub, and the 'Research Leaders' programme. International speakers presented the latest large-scale 3DCP case studies from across Europe.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Automation Design-Design By Automation Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Automation Design-Design By Automation Symposium at NYIT, New York, USA. Chair: Pavlina Vardoulaki.
Invited to present at a symposium covering a range of topics related to robotics and design-engineering for building construction
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Automation in Construction: Skanska-UCL Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The half-day workshop was held with 18 representatives from Skanska and selected companies from its UK supply chain. It aimed to consider ways to identify and codify the elements of a building project that may offer best value from the application of automation and possible multi-robot manufacture and installation. It focused on the logistics of on-site and off-site construction, as well as installation/assembly activities (such as drilling, clipping and assembling). The outcome was that the forward research programme better reflects and relates well to industry concerns and interests. Delegates also indicated their interest to participate in subsequent phases of the research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description EcoBuild 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact - Expert panel debating the future role of robotics and artificial intelligence in construction
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Norm 2 Swarm: 2nd Industry Consultation Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presented at a workshop that forms part of the CDBB project "From Norm to Swarm: development of a balanced scorecard for evaluating automation in construction", chaired by Isolda Agusti Juan and Jacqueline Glass
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description UCL - Bryden Wood 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact - discuss collaboration opportunities related to the development of autonomous on-site construction robotics for platform based methodologies
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020
 
Description UCL - Ocado Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact - discuss engagement with Ocado related to mobile robotics and autonomous systems for logistics
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description UCL - Shimizu 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact - discussion to explore opportunities for UCL and Shimizu to work together on a set of robotic construction challenges
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Workshop on Robotics and the Future of Work 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Participated in the GRASP/EL Engineering Workshop on Robotics and the Future of Work Round-table discussion chair Daniel Koditschek (Elect/Syst.Eng), participants: Robert Stuart-Smith, M. Ani Hsieh, Michael Horowitz, Dan Miller- Uueda, included Q&A with Philadelphia school teachers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019