With the labor shortage, developers are looking for ways to be more productive and more efficient, including using new technologies that take the human nearly completely out of the mix. But are solutions like this actually leading to more productivity?
As the yellow and black bulldozer-like machine zoomed around the construction site preparing the ground for 700 new houses, all that was missing was someone in the driver’s seat.
Self-driving fever has spread from the Bay Area’s roads to its construction projects, prompting yet another industry to grapple with the excitement and risks that come with this state-of-the-art technology. San Francisco-based Built Robotics says its autonomous track loader, which has been leveling ground at Bay Area construction sites since last fall, will be a safer, more efficient alternative to using human drivers — and the company plans to expand its technology to other heavy machinery.
“If we can lower the cost of construction, then typically what happens is you do more of it,” said Built Robotics founder Noah Ready-Campbell. “I think that’s going to let us build more housing.”
Built Robotics is one of a host of companies seeking to use technology to transform the construction industry with everything from autonomous vehicles to drones to state-of-the-art software. Some experts say these innovations could address a decades-old problem — construction productivity has stagnated, while a shortage of housing is driving Bay Area home prices to unfathomable heights. But critics worry the advancements pose safety risks and will push workers out of high-paid jobs.
While productivity in U.S. manufacturing, retail and agriculture has increased as much as 15 fold since 1945, the construction industry has remained flat, according to a 2017 report by consulting firm McKinsey & Company. A January report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics paints a rosier picture — rates of productivity for building single-family homes increased at a rate of 1.1 percent per year between 1987 and 2015, compared to an average of 2.2 percent a year for other industries