Google “Bricklaying Robot” and you get some interesting results. Yes, of course there are articles and videos on the subject, but, equally interestingly, Google also shows you similar, related searches (see below) that people have made and it's clear that others are already seeking information on how robotics might affect a wide range of jobs. Based on this, it’s not just brickies that might be worried – the boffins are already working on automating carpenters’ and painters’ jobs.
However, to return to bricklaying robots, some might think that these are still some way off. In reality, the earliest link in my Google search dates from 2015and the associated articles reveal that the technology has been in development for over a decade. Other links in my Google search date from 2017 and 2018 and are from mainstream press, specifically the Daily Mirror and Financial Times. It’s a general rule that once a technology starts to be reported in the major newspapers that means that it’s already working and ready to roll.
More specifically, the Semi-Automated Mason (SAM) robot videoon YouTube, dated 21stFebruary 2016, provoked a lot of comment, most of it from current bricklayers/masons and almost all of that very negative. For example …
“The arrogance of the inventors and people in general is amazing … The robot will fail because you FAIL to understand and RESPECT the Genius KRAFT (sic) of bricklaying that no robot can recreate...?”
“Stupid I can lay 3 to 1 on that robot. No way that's faster than 2 guys building leads and 3 on the line.?”
“Ha ha pause it on 49 seconds see how wonky the bricks are. Sam you need a string line?.”
“As a mason I do need to say, this thing needs to die!!!?”
“Screw that robot, any real mason or even line layer can out lay it. 1000 brick a day easy on straight line. no leads just corner poles. no robot is taking my job any time soon.?”
Then there were a few who were on this robot’s side.
“Get a grip, automation is here to stay & continue to get better over time. Your moaning & complaining about it won't stop it.?”
And others who were more realistic…
“That is how the future ought to be, man and machine working together, complementing each other.?”
“Architects will start designing, with AI/Robotics in mind, and the only thing left will be Technicians and simple labor. This will not happen in 20 years, but maybe 40-50 for sure. Only Custom work will slowly carry on. It happened to the furniture industry, now only skilled carpenters are few and far between making money.?”
We don’t think that the robots are going to take over most trades jobs just yet, but there is no point in sticking one’s head in the sand and pretending that it isn’t going to happen. It’s unlikely to be as few as 20 years either. Rather, it’s going to happen slowly at first and then accelerate rapidly once it reaches a tipping point. In the meantime, much of the housing industry is doing very nicely thank and with the government imperative to build more houses that’s likely to continue for many years –and with that there is likely to be a continuing demand for tradespeople for a good few years to come.
Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment