Australian inventor shows a future for affordable housing, while at the same time painting a big question mark over the future of thousands of jobs.
It's estimated a third of all jobs will be replaced by robots by 2025. While some of these are predicted to be in fields such as healthcare, administration and factory work, builders can now be added to the list of professions whose livelihoods are on the 'watch list'.
The fully-automated bricklaying robot dubbed Hadrian - yes, named after that Hadrian - can lay 1,000 bricks per hour. In more concrete terms, that's a new house every two days or, if it were to work non-stop (and why would it ever take a break?), the potential to build 150 houses per year. While this isn't the first bricklaying robot out there, Hadrian is the first fully-automated one, with others requiring an on-site builder to assist with operation.
Created by Australian aeronautic and mechanical engineer Mark Pivac, Hadrian works by creating a 3D CAD layout of a house or structure and then working out how each brick needs to be positioned for it to be built. It then sets about cutting bricks to length, applying concrete or adhesive, and laying them all from a fixed position.
To help simplify things, Hadrian doesn't move its base once it starts working. Instead, a 28m articulated telescopic arm allows it to reach over and around the structures it's building. It's worth pointing out that in Australia, it's far more common to have a bungalow, meaning Hadrian doesn't have to tackle the tricky situation of building multi-story dwellings and putting in suspended floors.
“People have been laying bricks for about 6,000 years and ever since the industrial revolution, they have tried to automate the bricklaying process,” Pivac told PerthNow. “We're at a technological nexus where a few different technologies have got to the level where it's now possible to do it, and that's what we've done.”
Making Hadrian wasn't easy, and it represents 10 years of technological engineering by Pivac and his team, along with A$7 million (£3.4 million) of investment.
So, are bricklayer's days numbered then? According to Pivac, Hadrian came about because of Australia's shortage of bricklayers and growing need for homes. “We have absolutely nothing against bricklayers,” he explained. “The problem is the average age of bricklayers is going up and it's difficult to attract new young people to the trade.”
The UK doesn't suffer from the same shortage of builders, but the cost of buying or building a home in the UK is rising. With Hadrian new-build houses could be finished in a matter of weeks instead of months or years, reducing the overall cost of construction.