The Boston Dynamics Spot robot is made to hit the ground running on construction sites.

Equipped with reality capture devices from Trimble (X7) and Hilti as its payload, the Spot Robot (seen above) can directly communicate with a cloud-based construction management application, providing consistent output and delivering improved efficiency on repeatable tasks. 

Using autonomous, terrain-agnostic capabilities that enable it to by-pass obstacles while maintaining its defined path, the Spot Robot  provides up-to-date as-built data analysis through routine tasks such as daily site scans, progress monitoring, asset management and remote support. 

The project, recently announced by Trimble, Hilti and Boston Dynamics, is meant to be solely a “proof-of-concept” innovation among the three brands, with no plans to release the innovation to the public ... yet.

However, as autonomous technology continues to be refined and reconfigured for construction job sites, there are surely more robotic projects and partnerships like this one to come.

Here, Aviad Almagor, senior director for mixed reality and brain-computer interface (BCI) at Trimble, shares why robots will make great future employees. 

How do you anticipate the introduction of autonomous robots changing the structure of labor now that robots do the heavy lifting?

Autonomous robots have the potential to enhance field-oriented workflows, reduce the amount of rework and facilitate on-site tasks. Utilizing robots for routine tasks in hazardous environments will improve safety, efficiency, and data capture consistency which is all part of our digital transformation vision. 

What do you say to people who are afraid that robots will take their jobs? In some ways that is true but in other ways that isn't. Right?

In the near future we will experience a hybrid environment where robots perform both autonomous tasks and human-guided tasks. In this environment robots can handle structured routine tasks and assist humans with physical or dangerous tasks. The robots can help reduce fatigue, increase safety, precision, and quality; whereas the human can bring experience, holistic view of the task, knowledge, and better adaptation to dynamic changes.

What has been the overall feedback from workers working side by side with the Spot Robot? 

We are at an early stage of this journey but so far, the overall feedback is positive. 

The new generation of robots supports an unstructured environment with autonomous capabilities and perception that are essential for operation in a human environment. Building trust and confidence in the robot and especially regarding its reliability and safety measures are essential to ensure that workers will embrace the technology. 

I see the obvious benefits of having a robot handle dangerous tasks. However, is working with an autonomous robot safer than working with a real, live, human? 

One of the most exciting aspects of a human-robot hybrid environment is communication and cooperation strategies. When evaluating this new environment, we need to go beyond a one way human to robot communication. Robots can process multiple complex data sources simultaneously and communicate in real time. Their ability to interact with the environment and process input from a variety of sensors can help improve decision processes, identify potential risks, and provide advance warning. While performing its task a companion robot can also monitor the physical condition on site and workers fatigue to improve overall safety.  

When we think of autonomous robots, nothing is truly autonomous because there is still a human in control.

The initial workflow involves a learning phase in which the robots gain spatial understanding of the environment. Once completed, the robots can autonomously navigate and get around obstacles without requiring human interaction. The current Trimble payload for Spot includes the Trimble X7 3D Scanner which supports self-leveling and automatic registration of the scanned data along a path. Those two capabilities are very much aligned with the goal of having an autonomous robot moving around and doing scans automatically.

How far are we away from a truly autonomous construction robot?

Right now, the focus is on data collection for quality and production control but further down the road we expect to see specialized robots involved in actual construction, assembly processes, scheduled maintenance and repair.

In the planned project and partnership with Boston Dynamics and Hilti, what technology was needed from Hilti in order to complete the project?

Hilti and Trimble share similar values and vision, focusing on deep understanding of the customer needs and on innovative value-added solutions. The collaboration enables us to bring domain knowledge and expertise from both companies supporting a comprehensive office to field - field to office workflow. Trimble’s and Hilti’s payloads and the related cloud applications support a continuous flow of information and closes the loop for the construction environment.