A new video from AIST, Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, shows a prototype robot designed to work on construction sites in situations where there is a shortage of human workers. The robot in undeniably slow but also strikingly accurate, suggesting a future where humanoid robots could replace even more human jobs.
The prototype demonstration shows the robot, dubbed HRP-5P, picking up a piece of plaster board and screwing it into a wall. This kind of flexible humanoid robot is designed to be able to replicate human motions in complicated construction environments.
Industrial automation is rapidly changing the face of modern mass production. While large factory assembly lines are quickly becoming more and more robotic, human workers are still often necessary for many tasks. Aircraft assembly, for example, is one field that has resisted the kind of robotic assembly that has taken over the world of car production. This is because human workers are still needed to crawl and fit in different areas that larger fixed robotic systems simply cannot reach.
On-site construction is another field that similarly has resisted easy robotic automation, with human labor still primarily relied upon for the building of houses in situ. Automated brick-laying robots and massive robotic 3D-printers are certainly offering intriguing possibilities for the future of construction but ultimately we still need humans to hammer these buildings together.
This new Japanese research is less focused on removing the need for human workers but instead geared towards trying to deal with a problem unique to the island nation. Announcing the new robot, the researchers write: "Along with the declining birthrate and the aging of the population, it is expected that many industries such as the construction industry will fall into serious manual shortages in the future, and it is urgent to solve this problem by robot technology."
HRP-5P is not by any means the most advanced robot we have ever seen (the backflipping Atlas from Boston Dynamics arguably shows off a greater dynamic range). However, by directly designing a robot that can carry out heavy manual labour using similar movements to a human, AIST is gesturing toward a future where even more granular construction work can be taken over by robots.