This brick-laying robot could put thousands of people out of a job

A construction robot capable of laying bricks five-times faster than a human worker is reportedly coming to the UK within the next few months, and the news has reignited the debate over the use of technology to replace employees on the worksite, according to recent published reports.

Known as the Semi-Automated Mason or SAM, the robot in question was built by Construction Robotics of New York and is capable of laying up to 3,000 bricks per day, meaning that it can do the work of as many as six human workers, Futurism and The Sun reported earlier this week.

Already in use at a few US construction sites, SAM is comprised of a conveyor belt, mortar belt and robotic arm, but as its name suggests, it is not quite fully automated. The machine still needs a worker to load the system with bricks and mortars, but once that is completed, it picks up those mortar-covered bricks with its robotic arm and places them onto a wall.

According to Zero Hedge, SAM has an average efficiency of 3,000 bricks/day, and while it does require some human assistance, it can lay bricks for an estimated one-seventh the cost of a flesh-and-blood worker (4.5 cents/brick vs. 32 cents/brick). Overall, the folks at Construction Robotics estimate that it can reduce labor costs for bricklaying projects by more than 50 percent.

Robotic replacement of retiring workers part of ongoing trend

While SAM is expected to arrive in the UK later on this year, the company’s website said that it has already been used at construction sites in Pennsylvania, New York, Kansas, Washington DC, Tennessee, Maryland and Wyoming and has helped build hotels, grocery stores, and schools.

According to The Sun, one-third of the UK’s construction workers at least 50 years of age, and as many as 620,000 are expected to retire within the next 10 years. While consultants previously said that they expected construction robots to arrive in the UK within the next two years, reports indicate that Construction Robotics is finalizing plans to enter the market later on this year.

“Not surprisingly, since automation would likely lead to the displacement of numerous employees in the construction workforce, movement in that direction has been met with a lot of resistance,” Futurism’s June Javelosa noted. “Many in the field point out the complexity of other aspects of the construction process, which robots are currently not capable of handling.”

Nevertheless, as the website had previously reported, it is part of a coming trend that is expected to cost nearly a million workers their jobs by 2030. In fact, experts have predicted that 80 percent of administrative work will become fully automated within the next 15 years and that nearly one-third of the UK workforce (10 million people) are at risk of being replaced by machines.

The outlook is even more dire in the US, according to PricewaterhouseCooper. The company stated that around 38 percent of American jobs are at risk of becoming automated by the 2030s, and that those areas that will be most affected include transportation, manufacturing and retail work.


Image credit: NSF