Marking walls is a critical, precise job especially if you’re using prefabricated components. However, laying out chalk lines manually has a significant margin of error that can add up for large projects. To tackle this simple but vital job, a Silicon Valley startup called Dusty Robotics has created a robotic printer.
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0:40 Dusty Robotics
1:58 So what?
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Their FieldPrinter system takes in CSV, CAD or dwg files and converts it into GPS coordinates. The system prints full-size floor plans with 1/16" accuracy. It works on plywood, OSB and concrete. It can print different line styles like dotted, dashed or solid, text labels and points. It can also print multiple trades at once.
When I first came across this robot, my initial impression was: ok, so it’s a Roomba that prints drawings on floor slabs, so what? It’s such a simple idea, anyone can do it. But then, I realized that its simplicity is its strength. I made a video recently on Katerra and how it tried to automate everything at once and failed. Dusty Robotics realized how complex and intertwined the construction industry is. They identified a single act and automated it beautifully.
Tessa Lau, the Founder and CEO of Dusty Robotics, previously co-founded Savioke, the world’s first hotel delivery robot. Savioke’s complex robots were taught to anticipate human actions, interact with us, learn how to enter and exit elevators, etc. Tessa Lau has said the Dusty Robotics’s device is pretty dumb compared to Savioke’s. They use just one sensor to guide them rather than an array of lidar, sonar and cameras.
Dusty Robotics says its machines can do work five to ten times faster than humans at the same price. The robot eliminates manual error and construction crews can build directly off the printed plans. Their system also generates reports detailing exactly what was printed. It also has an inbuilt path planning and obstacle avoidance system.
People on construction sites typically use these yellow tripods called total stations. This is an optical surveying instrument that calculates angles and distances. It shoots a laser at another person in the distance who’s holding a mirror. Dusty Robotics put that mirror on their robot, so it spits out an exact distance within millimeters.
Dusty Robotics uses regular desk printer ink that is very durable and sticks to concrete. It doesn’t need a top clear coat to prevent it from rubbing off. Printing multiple trades at once can identify issues like columns or load bearing walls that weren’t built in the right place. Designers can start working around them much earlier in the schedule.
One of the disadvantages of these robots is that it only prints on horizontal floor slabs, not on vertical walls or the ceiling. One of Dusty’s competitors is a Canadian company called Mechasys. They have a device that projects markings with the laser instead of printing lines. The issue with laser projections is that it's temporary. Another disadvantage is dealing with the messiness of job sites. In all their promo videos, the Dusty Robot is working on a clean floor which is very, very rare.
The last disadvantage is that it doesn't rectify human error. As the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out. Poor quality input will result in a faulty layout. You need to run clash detection software and go through your drawings with a fine tooth comb before sending it to this robotic printer. Otherwise, it is going to print your mistakes and you’ll end up drawing chalk lines to fix the printed layout.
The Dusty Robotics team of 20 people has created a pretty awesome robot. Revit and other Building Information Modelling software hold so much intelligent information that is lost on job sites. This robot can unlock the barriers to BIM’s potential.
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