WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
New technologies like AI, machine vision and autonomous robots and machines mean one day we’ll see fully autonomous construction sites – and they’ll need cranes.
A little while ago I discussed how tomorrow’s construction sites will become increasingly autonomous thanks to the arrival of drones like the ones from Skycrane that can map and manage orchestras of 3D printing construction robots and autonomous vehicles on and around construction sites. And now the world’s first autonomous construction crane is coming thanks to a startup from Israel called IntSite.
The company’s prototype autonomous crane was originally debuted at the 2017 International Tower Crane Conference in London, UK, where it was apparently the star of the show.
With the goal of increasing safety, efficiency and productivity, the crane which is now under development uses Artificial Intelligence (AI), deep learning and machine vision to identify workers and objects near it to avoid collisions and, according to the designers it “speeds up project completion times by 20 percent or more.”
The latest addition to Israel’s growing so called ConstructionTech sector, IntSite was founded last year by twin brothers Tzach and Mor Ram-On who were graduates of the Technion Israel Institute of Technology where Tzach studied civil engineering and Mor studied aerospace engineering.
Tzach had previously worked as a site engineer for Electra Construction, one of the biggest general contractors companies in Israel, while Mor had originally served as a guidance, navigation and control engineer in the Missile Division of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and then as the algorithms group team leader at Cnoga Medical.
Then a few years ago they decided to put their heads together and form IntSite, writing algorithms to control the trajectory and navigation of autonomous cranes to enable “more efficient and intelligent operations” without the need for a human operator or human oversight.
Then, last March they signed a strategic partnership agreement with BuildUp, the innovation arm of Israel’s largest construction and infrastructure company, Shikun & Binui, and its construction subsidiary Solel Boneh, and in May they raised $1.35 million from Terra Venture Partners and the Israeli Innovation Authority.
More than 100,000 tower cranes are active around the world today, and according to International Cranes and Specialized Transport, the construction industry is riddled with a “remarkable level of inefficiency, including poor planning, mismanagement, and human error – as well as astonishingly outdated equipment – and the crane is at the top of the list.”
The trade magazine goes on to say that cranes, which often take center stage on construction sites, hoists the vast majority of all materials and equipment onsite and performs “innumerable tasks on every type and size of project” and yet it “delivers an estimated efficiency of only 55 to 65 percent, regularly causing the bottlenecks that lead to costly delays.”
The basic design of the construction crane hasn’t changed since its invention by the ancient Greeks in the 6th century BC.
“30% of cranes in use are considered obsolescent, and potentially dangerous to workers on site, passers by and operators, as operations are often conducted in uncontrollable environments,” said Mor, before adding, “on average, 98% of construction mega projects go over budget, according to McKinsey. And in a multi-trillion dollar global industry like construction, even the slightest uptick in efficiency could amount to hundreds of millions in savings.”
The autonomous crane is currently undergoing testing in Israel and is expected to be piloted in UK and France in early 2019.