Adobe Stock / 13FTStudio

In housing's data-driven future, robots will take an increasingly important role. But, how far will that extend in and outside the office environment?

Across the world, construction firms are struggling to keep up. After the housing market collapse of 2007 and subsequent global recession ravaged the sector, many companies have struggled to staff back up again to meet the needs of a broadly resurgent building market. The prevailing trend of veteran workers reaching retirement age and a lack of new blood to replace them – a common thread among heavy industries – has only made matters worse.

In the US, a survey by the National Association of Home Builders listed the cost and availability of labour as the top problem facing construction companies in the country last year, with more than 80% of companies responding that labour is their primary concern. European companies are staring down the barrel of an impending skills shortage too, with 62% of UK-based builders reporting recruitment issues to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in Q3 2017. In Japan, meanwhile, industry associations predict that there will be 1.2 million fewer construction workers in the industry in 2025 when compared to 2014 employment levels.

In the event of major disasters that necessitate extensive building repair work, the shortfall can become particularly clear. As relief efforts got underway in Texas following the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey last year, many contractors were left wondering how they would be able to handle the spike in demand.

“We expect that we are going to be inundated with phone calls once the water level goes down and we’re going to have to hire more people, but I don’t know where they will come from,” Lynnie Griffin, accounting manager at Houston-based WestStar Drywall, told Reuters in September.

Robotics: a steep hill to climb in construction
For the last few years, momentum has been building behind the idea of integrating robotic technologies far more deeply in the construction process, both as a solution to the skills shortage issue and as a stimulant to flagging productivity on sites. Industrial robots have found a prominent role in automotive manufacturing and a range of other industries; according to the International Federation of Robotics, there are more than two million robotic units in production at factories worldwide, and there is one robot for every five human workers at car assembly plants.

Read More