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Kier trials site-monitoring robot

13 December 2018 | By Stephen Cousins

Kier is one of three international contractors trialling new robotic technology designed to automate onsite progress tracking and check for health and safety hazards.

The four-wheeled robot, developed by European Barcelona-based start-up Scaled Robotics, is fitted with a range of sensors that enable it to manoeuvre autonomously around a building site and capture detailed 3D survey scans and panoramic photos of ongoing construction.

Online software then compares the 3D as-built survey information against the original BIM model to automatically identify any discrepancies or deviations from the design to help contractors keep tabs on quality and progress.

Kier piloted the system on the £22m Harris Academy scheme in Bromley, Greater London, and another project in Cambridge. Other trials are underway with the civil engineering and construction firms AF Gruppen, in Norway and Dura Vermeer, in the Netherlands. A principal investor in the technology is German formwork and scaffolding company PERI.

Stuart Maggs, CEO of Scaled Robotics, told BIM+: “We’re basically automating progress tracking to ensure that contractors understand precise progress on site to keep things ticking over smoothly. Site managers need to know things like how many ducts have been installed that day, whether steel columns are in the right place, or if edge protection is fully compliant – we can help them answer these questions without having to physically check themselves, which allows them to focus on the more important task of solving issues that arise.”

The robot covers the site each night recording 360-degree photos

The robot trundles around the site every night, capturing detailed 3D point clouds and 360 degree high resolution photos. According to Maggs, “the robot prefers a flat surface, but it doesn’t have to be”.

The custom-designed cloud-based software uses a form of computer vision to automatically sift through the masses of point cloud data, identify building elements and highlight any differences with the original BIM model, in IFC or Revit format.

Every element in the BIM is then automatically colour coded to reflect its status: green for “good”, red for a “missing element”, orange for “deviated element” and white for “not enough information present”. End users can then decide whether the issue is significant and needs actioning with a subcontractor, or if it needs to be ignored, for example if the original BIM element was built in basic geometry that does not reflect the more complex detail of the real installed element.

Elements are also tagged with a 360-degree image – clicking on the element pulls up the panorama associated with it to give contractors a thorough “God’s eye view” of project progress from the office or on site cabin.

Apart from progress monitoring, the same point cloud data can be used to track health and safety hazards, for example if edge protection is in the correct location, or if holes are covered correctly and in compliance with the design.

"When the health & safety officer wakes up in the morning they receive a list of potential issues that need addressing in their inbox. It gives them a head start so they can spend their time solving issues instead of searching for them,” says Maggs.

Using a robot to carry out scans elevates the system above existing software platforms designed to automatically compare as-built progress versus as-designed data, he adds: “Robots move us a step forward towards fully automating the process, the software filters out all the clutter and noise in point clouds to provide actionable information so teams are not overwhelmed by meaningless details. The entire process automated, a human hand doesn't touch anything until the end user manipulates the data online.”

Scaled Robotics is planning to roll out a full-time pilot of the technology with Kier in 2019 (previous pilots have involved two or three day tests) and according to Maggs, a finished product is just a couple of months away.

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