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Dusty Robotics, developer of robot-powered tools for the modern construction workforce, closed a $16.5 million Series A round led by Canaan Partners and joined by returning investors NextGen Venture Partners, Baseline Ventures, Root Ventures, and Cantos Ventures. The financing brings Dusty’s total funding to date to $23.7 million.
Founded in 2018 by seasoned robotics entrepreneurs Tessa Lau and Philipp Herget, Dusty’s robot-powered tools accelerate the digital transformation of the construction industry. Dusty’s first product is FieldPrinter, an autonomous robot that prints digital building models directly onto the floor of construction sites. FieldPrinter lays out floor plans up to 10x faster than traditional crews while guaranteeing accuracy up to 1 mm (1/16 of an inch). FieldPrinter eliminates errors during construction by printing “IKEA instructions” directly on the floor that instruct crews exactly what to build where.
“We’ve spent the last year [since March 2020], reworking the product, making it more robust and getting our generation 2 robot up and running,” said Tessa Lau, co-founder and CEO of Dusty. “We started full fledged production in August/September 2020. We started taking on work, and contractors started bringing us onto their projects after they emerged from the temporary [COVID-19] shutdown. And and it’s just been taking off massively since then.”
Dusty taps into digital building information management (BIM)
The typical size project for Dusty customers is about 10,000 square feet (SF), and the company recently completed a 20-story building project in San Francisco, CA that had 20 individual apartments on each floor. They also recently worked with construction partner Swinerton, to layout the interior of a 55,000 SF office building that Swinerton is constructing for a confidential client. Through the use of Swinerton’s coordinated BIM model, Dusty was able to accurately layout the entire second floor at a rate 200 LF/HR crushing the typical production rate of 300 LF/Day per man – according to a post on the Swinerton LinkedIn page.
“The construction industry is in the midst of a digital transformation. Most projects have adopted Building Information Modeling (BIM) to design buildings in full 3D, yet layout crews still use paper plans, measuring tape, and string to transfer those designs to the site for construction,” said Lau. “We are creating a future where robots are standard tools used to construct every building, turning BIM into reality, and eliminating the errors that create waste.”
Construction is taking off, post-pandemic
Dusty Robotics has positioned itself to take advantage of the post-pandemic construction boom. While the opportunity is growing faster than the industry can keep up with, many projects fall behind schedule and go over budget according to Dodge Data & Analytics. The process of transferring the layout to the building floor has been one of the most manual processes. Building design has gone all digital in the last 15 years, but the process of laying out that information currently goes from digital to paper, to manual layout with measuring tape and chalk lines. The Dusty FieldPrinter is changing all of that.
“With increasing digital adoption in the full commercial real estate lifecycle, and especially the value created by using technology such as digital twins in the design and construction process, we believe now is the time for Dusty. These technologies have enabled construction to be more precise than ever before, and have opened the door to completely re-imagining the complex and time- and labor-intensive layout process,” said Rich Boyle, general partner at Canaan. “The robotic layout process that Dusty created enables developers to be dramatically more efficient by reducing manual labor and elapsed time, and even more importantly by reducing errors and re-work in the construction process. Both are reasons we believe Dusty Robotics has a big future and are thrilled to be leading its Series A.”
FieldPrinter is a mobile inkjet printer – for the ground
FieldPrinter has been eagerly adopted by builders, particularly general and specialty contractors that have made significant investments in BIM. Some of Dusty’s early customers include Swinerton, DPR Construction, Build Group, and Pankow Builders. Since its first rollout in the fall of 2020, Dusty’s FieldPrinter has laid out more than one million square feet of commercial construction, including several high-rise buildings in San Francisco.
The secret sauce for the company is in the design of both the FieldPrinter robot, and the high-accuracy positioning system that FieldPrinter leverages to know exactly where it is at any time. The company employs a stationary total station as the reference location for the FieldPrinter. But it’s not just an off the shelf total station. Dusty Robotics has built the software and communication infrastructure so that the FieldPrinter robot can communicate with its reference total station in real-time while it is in motion. Lau says that this was one of the most difficult problems to crack in the design of the solution, so that they could achieve the necessary precision in transferring the building information to the flooring pad.
“Through a R&D partnership with Dusty Robotics, we have successfully tested FieldPrinter on building projects in Los Angeles, Austin, Texas, and Leesburg, Virginia and we are excited about the possibilities of deploying FieldPrinter more widely,” said Bardo Ponce, operations manager at Swinerton, a commercial construction company active in the office, retail, multi-family residential, hospitality, healthcare, education, energy, and entertainment sectors. “ Every project we bring Dusty too is seeing great strides in productivity and we look forward to every iteration of this robot and the positive impact it will have on our industry.”
The company is hiring
The company plans to use part of the funds to immediately increase the size of it’s engineering and manufacturing staff as they seek to keep up with demand. As of press time, there are 10+ open positions on the Dusty Robotics website.
Lau was a guest on The Robot Report Podcast in October 2020. She updated us on the progression of FieldPrinter and discussed how the company pivoted away from its initial product idea. She also dove into FieldPrinter’s custom localization, mapping and navigation technology, building relationships with builders, and scaling its field operations team. You can listen to the interview below, starting at the 4:08 mark.