According to consulting firm McKinsey, the majority of large construction projects go over budget and take 20% longer than expected. And despite being a global $10 trillion-a-year industry, commercial construction is one of the least automated markets.
Dusty Robotics, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup, today closed a $5 million seed round in hopes of starting to change that. Founded by Tessa Lau and Philipp Herget in 2018, Dusty Robotics has raised $7.2 million to date.
Named a 2019 Robotics Startup to Watch by The Robot Report, the company is getting ready to scale its first product in early 2020. FieldPrinter is a mobile robot that prints layout plans directly onto the floors of job sites. The robot uses layout plans that were created using building information modeling (BIM) software.
A human crew typically does layout using printed documents and measuring tools to manually mark layouts on the floor. Lau pointed out that the primary method to mark lines is using a chalkline, which involves stretching a piece of string between two points and snapping it against the floor to draw a straight line. This method was invented by the Egyptians more than 5,000 years ago.
How FieldPrinter works
Lau said FieldPrinter can streamline the layout process and reduces errors. It can print all information from the BIM onto the floor, including layouts for each trade and details about wall types and doors. FieldPrinter also creates continuous progress reports and communicates field status back to project teams in real-time so they can respond to any issues.
Lau told The Robot Report FieldPrinter is “basically a printer” on a mobile robot. The robot has an onboard inkjet printer that releases ink based on the BIM design. In attempt to keep its competitive advantage, Lau said the company isn’t releasing video of FieldPrinter in action.
“We have a 2D drawing of linework that needs to go on the floor,” she said. “It creates a path to traverse each of these lines and deposit ink in the right place. The ink dries pretty fast, but as we deposit ink, we track which lines we trace out and move on until the linework is complete.”
Since FieldPrinter is pre-loaded with the building plans, the robot at this time doesn’t need to perform simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM). Lau said the robot’s sensors help ensure it draws accurate lines, which is FieldPrinter’s top priority. The onboard accelerometer, for example, can calculate the tilt of the robot. “If you don’t compensate for that, you will draw where you’re not supposed to be drawing,” Lau said.
Lau said more sensors will be added throughout 2020 to enable more capabilities, but she isn’t ready to discuss those new features just yet. She said the new sensors will include “standard suite of sensors for mobile robotics.”
Dusty Robotics using RaaS model
Dusty Robotics is planning a wide-scale commercial launch of FieldPrinter in early 2020. It will be available as a robot-as-a-service (RaaS) model, with pricing based on the scope of the project.
“We are charging for the amount of layout we’re doing. It’s a line item on the construction budget,” said Lau. “People are paying human crews for that today, so we’re charging in proportion to that.”
One of Dusty Robotics’ first pilot customers is M.A. Mortenson Company, a top 20 builder in the U.S. It is trialing FieldPrinter on its $1.9 billion NFL Allegiant Stadium project in Las Vegas. Lau said FieldPrinter was used to lay out the luxury suites going into the building.
Gurnet Point Construction, a San Francisco-based general contractor, is using FieldPrinter to perform layout on a nine-unit, four-story housing development in Oakland. Scott MacLellan, principal at Gurnet Point Construction, said the robot is a tool that can help maintain consistency between the hours spent upfront with project modeling and the onsite layout visuals our field crews are used to.
“I’ve been waiting for a layout automation tool like Dusty to catch up with project modeling capabilities for over a decade,” he said. “The robot performs a tedious and time-consuming task quickly and with great precision, enabling complex construction projects to stay on time and on budget.”