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Robots march on construction

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Construction is a historically labour-intensive industry with little automation. The traditional solution to achieving more production was to simply add more workers. Whereas productivity in many other industries has risen substantially, productivity in construction has been nearly flat because little technology has been developed or introduced until recently.

According to a new report from Tractica, the industry is ripe for disruption, and a growing number of construction companies are incorporating robots to solve labour shortages and reap the benefits of improved speed, efficiency, safety, and profits. Robots are beginning to make their way into a variety of construction tasks, promising to change the way the industry creates homes, buildings, and other infrastructure.

Tractica forecasts that growing interest in construction robots will drive an increase in market revenue from $22.7 million in 2018 to $226.0 million annually by 2025. During that period, the market intelligence firm forecasts that more than 7,000 construction robots will be deployed to address a variety of construction and demolition tasks. The largest market in terms of unit shipments will be for robot assistants used on construction sites, followed by infrastructure robots, structure robots, and finishing robots.

“At this early stage in the construction robotics industry, a few companies are offering products for sale or lease,” says Glenn Sanders, senior analyst for Tractica. “The main categories that are currently available include robots for demolition, bricklaying, drilling, 3D printing, and rebar tying, plus a few exoskeletons and assistant robots for lifting loads.”

Sanders said that midsize and major construction companies are beginning to adopt these robots to solve issues related to labor shortages, safety, speed, accuracy, and integration with building automation and building information modeling (BIM).

Tractica’s report, “Construction & Demolition Robots”, provides forecasts and market sizing for construction robots shipments and revenue for the 2018 to 2025 timeframe, segmented by world region and application type. The report provides an in-depth discussion of the global market trends, drivers, challenges, and technological issues influencing the market development of construction robots.

A detailed picture of market participants is presented, based on interviews with CEOs and research profiling 28 key players, as well as a company directory of 60 significant and emerging industry players. An Executive Summary of the report is available for free download on the firm’s website.

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SA’s Internet goes down again

South Africa is about to experience a small repeat of the lower speeds and loss of Internet connectivity suffered in January, thanks to a new undersea cable break, writes BRYAN TURNER

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Internet service provider Afrihost has notified customers that there are major outages across all South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as a result of a break in the WACS undersea cable between Portugal and England 

The cause of the cable break along the cable is unclear. it marks the second major breakage event along the West African Internet sea cables this year, and comes at the worst possible time: as South Africans grow heavily dependent on their Internet connections during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

As a result of the break, the use of international websites and services, which include VPNs (virtual private networks), may result in latency – decreased speeds and response times.  

WACS runs from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, up the West Coast of Africa, and terminates in the United Kingdom. It makes a stop in Portugal before it reaches the UK, and the breakage is reportedly somewhere between these two countries. 

The cable is owned in portions by several companies, and the portion where the breakage has occurred belongs to Tata Communications. 

The alternate routes are:  

  • SAT3, which runs from Melkbosstrand also in the Western Cape, up the West Coast and terminates in Portugal and Spain. This cable runs nearly parallel to WACS and has less Internet capacity than WACS. 
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe), which also runs up the West Coast.  
  • The SEACOM cable runs from South Africa, up the East Coast of Africa, terminating in both London and Dubai.  
  • The EASSy cable also runs from South Africa, up the East Coast, terminating in Sudan, from where it connects to other cables. 

The routes most ISPs in South Africa use are WACS and SAT3, due to cost reasons. 

The impact will not be as severe as in January, though. All international traffic is being redirected via alternative cable routes. This may be a viable method for connecting users to the Internet but might not be suitable for latency-sensitive applications like International video conferencing. 

Read more about the first Internet connectivity breakage which happened on the same cable, earlier this year. 

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SA cellphones to be tracked to fight coronavirus

Several countries are tracking cellphones to understand who may have been exposed to coronavirus-infected people. South Africa is about to follow suit, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From Israel to South Korea, governments and cell networks have been implementing measures to trace the cellphones of coronavirus-infected citizens, and who they’ve been around. The mechanisms countries have used have varied.  

In Iran, citizens were encouraged to download an app that claimed to diagnose COVID-19 with a series of yes or no questions. The app also tracked real-time location with a very high level of accuracy, provided by the GPS sensor. 

In Germany, all cellphones on Deutsche Telekom are being tracked through cell tower connections, providing a much coarser location, but a less invasive method of tracking. The data is being handled by the Robert Koch Institute, the German version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Taiwan, those quarantined at home are tracked via an “electronic fence”, which determines if users leave their homes.  

In South Africa, preparations have started to track cellphones based on cell tower connections. The choice of this method is understandable, as many South Africans may either feel an app is too intrusive to have installed, or may not have the data to install the app. This method also allows more cellphones, including basic feature phones, to be tracked. 

This means that users can be tracked on a fairly anonymised basis, because these locations can be accurate to about 2 square kilometers. Clearly, this method of tracking is not meant to monitor individual movements, but rather gain a sense of who’s been around which general area.  

This data could be used to find lockdown violators, if one considers that a phone connecting in Hillbrow for the first 11 days of lockdown, and then connecting in Morningside for the next 5, likely indicates a person has moved for an extended period of time. 

The distance between Hillbrow and Morningside is 17km. One would pass through several zones covered by different towers.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that South African network providers have agreed to provide government with location data to help fight COVID-19. 

Details on how the data will be used, and what it will used to determine, are still unclear. 

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