Robotic automation solutions are flooding the construction industry after widespread adoption in warehouse and supply-chain uses, with venture capital pouring serious capital into construction tech startups.
Earlier this week, BuiltUp Ventures revealed a significant investment in OKIBO, an Israeli contech startup that’s creating its robotic automation solutions to address challenges like skilled labor shortages. OKIBO’s robots are “designed for the harsh conditions of a construction site,” the companies said in a joint statement announcing the deal, with 3D scanning, autonomous path planning, and USPTO-approved real time modeling technology. Its first product is a drywall finishing robot performing plastering, sanding and painting.
A shortage of skilled labor has had major ramifications for the construction industry: in the 2020 AGC survey, 57% of respondents cite the skilled labor shortage as the biggest challenge to worker health and safety, while 44% of companies say project costs have been higher and another 40% say projects are taking longer to complete.
Investor interest in automation skyrocketed during the pandemic, which highlighted the fragility of global supply chains.
“I expect to see companies continue to optimize the operations of their logistics facilities, as well as increased investment in robotic systems to enhance processes, as they seek to create environments that prioritize the health, safety and well-being of employees,” Will O’Donnell, managing partner, Prologis Ventures, told GlobeSt in an earlier interview.
Warehouse operators spent much of 2020 snapping up technologies like automated storage and retrieval systems, as well as drones and autonomous vehicles. And many are adopting multistory warehouses and micro-distribution centers.
Autonomous tech also has big implications for retail. Last year, Walmart announced a delivery program with Cruise, the only self-driving car company to operate an entire fleet of all-electric vehicles, in Scottsdale, Az. And in 2019, the retail giant launched Houston-based pilot program to deliver groceries with autonomous vehicle company, Nuro.
For large retailers, increasing their investment in and reliance on automation is a “no brainer,” according to NKF chairman Thad Mallory. He says companies like Amazon, Costco, Walmart, Lowes and Home Depot are leading the way with automation, and predicts they’ll double down on their investment in the near future.