One of the premier project proposals that I worked on in my university years was a brick laying robot. This robot had the ability to lay brick five times faster than the average human. We based our research on SAM 100 (Semi-Automated Mason), the brainchild of Construction Robotics. Sam can lay up to 400 bricks an hour, compared to a human who can only lay around 60 to 75 bricks every hour. This was such revolutionary technology and I could not understand why such wasn’t implementable in the Kenyan construction sphere.
The construction industry in Kenya today is a booming business contributing up to 7% to the Kenyan GDP. So with so much going on, why are we not seeing robots, virtual reality use and drones on the construction sites yet?
The construction industry is probably one of the most conservative industries in Kenya today. This, therefore, means that tech advancements are quite difficult to effect in the industry. Talking to a few friends in the industry, here are some of the reasons why this technology has not become a reality:
Affordable Labor. Casual workers on the site are very accessible and affordable to the most part. More importantly, being a third world country, there are is need to prevent loss of jobs in the highly manual industry as this would affect thousands of families. However, what does this mean for technological advancements where loss of jobs is imminent? You can share your thoughts with me below.
Cost Implications. Well, new technology can be crazy expensive. A system like SAM above was going for $500,000 two years back. This blocks out most construction projects in Kenya in Kenya as the costs are too high. This is not forgetting costs involved with the training of staff on the use of the new technology. Maybe with cheaper innovations, this could become more of a reality.
Different Construction Technology Development. As compared to the developing world, our construction methods and materials differ a lot. Most systems are built in Europe, China and the US and their feasibility in local markets is low. Designing for African markets should be at the forefront for companies developing construction industry technology.
Future Tech for Construction in Kenya
Tech is the only way to address the bottlenecks in the construction industry. If the machines are specifically designed for the Kenyan construction scene, then the situation would be completely different. Based on my experience, these are some of the ideas I have seen local innovators playing around with.
Stone Laying Robots. Machines work 24/7, no fatigue, minimal accidents and no breaks. Having robots on site would mean seeing buildings being completed more than thrice as fast.
Easier Material Carrying. Use of man-made pulleys and wheelbarrows is as outdated as it gets. There are multiple systems that can be incorporated to ensure more effective material transfer on sites such as automated pulley systems and conveyors.
Drones. Huge construction projects can be hard to manage. Drones are the perfect way to access areas that humans cannot get to, get aerial views and collect data for use by the construction managers. Having drones on site would cut out the weekly trips to the site by the different stakeholders.
Personally, I am most excited to live in a 3D printed house (predicted total cost is under $5000) in the near future!