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Meet Romu, The Construction Robot

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Posted May 14, 2019

Sheet piles have been the foundation for construction for decades — literally. These steel sheets are driven down into the earth to secure the soil and create a stable surface for laying concrete and building.

While functional, installing them takes a lot of employees and a lot of time, as well as near-perfect jobsite logistics. Romu is hoping to change that. Who is Romu and what could this little robot mean for the future of construction?

The robot is designed to drive interlocking sheet piles into granular soils like sand on a beach. Image credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

The robot is designed to drive interlocking sheet piles into granular soils like sand on a beach. Image credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

Meet Romu

Instead of using a team and heavy equipment to lay sheet piles, teams may soon be able to use a little robot to do all that work.

Romu is the brainchild of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard and can lay sheet piles using a fraction of the force that it takes a human worker to do the same job. It runs on four wheels, so it doesn’t disturb the soil of the jobsite, and leverages it’s own weight to apply the downward force necessary to place each sheet pile in place.

Romu doesn’t work by itself, however. Romu will eventually be part of a robot swarm that will handle repetitive tasks that would otherwise require heavy equipment and lots of workers. Where could consumers see robots on construction sites in the future, other than Romu?

Construction Robotics

Romu isn’t the only robot that could be making an appearance at a nearby construction site.

3D printing robots can lay concrete or manipulate steel automatically, based on an uploaded blueprint or digital design. Some countries are already using 3D printing robots to complete their construction projects. Engineers in The Netherlands are working on a 3D printed steel bridge. Once complete, the bridge will be installed in Amsterdam as a foot-path for pedestrians.

Automated bricklayers can build a wall or an entire building in a fraction of the time that it takes human masons to complete the same job. The average mason can lay between 60 and 75 bricks in an hour. In the same amount of time, SAM-100 — an automated bricklayer who’s name is short for semi-automated mason — can lay between 300 and 400.

Demolition robots can tear down buildings scheduled for demolition. They work slower than human demo teams but improve safety by removing the human element from the equation. In time, nearly every job on a construction site could be completed faster and safer with robots than with human workers, but the industry is not quite there yet.

Not Quite There Yet

Robots like Roma and SAM-100 might sound like the solution to the labor shortage that the construction industry is facing, but the technology is still in its infancy. The potential is there but to put it simply, construction technology is not quite there yet.

For now, construction companies will still need to rely on traditional tools and techniques to pour concrete, lay bricks, and set sheet piles. For the foreseeable future, skid steers and other heavy equipment will be the tools of choice for construction companies around the world.

The Future of Robots in Construction

Romu and SAM-100 might be the first construction robots to make the news, but they definitely won’t be the last. The industry is on the edge of a cliff, and it won’t take much to push it over into an age of robotic construction.

For now, workers have to be content to rely on traditional equipment and techniques but make no mistake — the age of robotics is coming. Instead of waiting for six months for a construction crew to build a new house, a homebuyer might be able to move in in a fraction of the time.

There’s no telling how far this new trend will go, but it is without a doubt here to stay.

Written by Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes

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