When Brayman Construction, Pennsylvania, was contracted to replace the Hulton Bridge, which spans the Allegheny River and connects eastern Pittsburgh suburbs, Stephen Muck had concerns about crews spending thousands of hours tying tiny rebar joints together.
“It’s very labor intensive, very time consuming,” explains Muck, whose company has completed several heavy civil construction projects in the area from bridges to highways and dams. “We had injuries coming from it. Slips, falls, lower back sprains.”
With the problem swirling in his mind, Muck went to a presentation on emerging robotic technology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
“I sat in the audience. They talked about developing various robots,” Muck recalls. “I got the impression the technology had converged to the point where we could develop a solution for a number of construction challenges.”
The person Muck shared his vision of developing a rebar-tying robot with was Jeremy Searock.
Searock studied in the only robotics degree program in the country in the early 2000’s while serving in the U.S. Navy.
“I was at Carnegie Mellon University during the initial push from the defense department on autonomous vehicles,” Searock says. “I went to graduate school with a lot of the current leaders in the various autonomous vehicle and robotics companies around the world.”
As a construction contractor, Muck faced worker shortages and productivity challenges. As a robotics engineer, Searock knew the tools were ready to build a commercial robot to answer Muck’s problems. Together, they built Advanced Construction Robotics with a mission to "transform the construction industry through robotics and artificial intelligence."
“In the 1900’s, it was about providing unlimited power to a person through machinery or engines or automobiles," Searock explains. “The next industrial revolution, which is starting now, is going to be centered around robotics and artificial intelligence to make every person more productive through that new technology.”
Muck says, "Our vision is to really enhance productivity and quality in the heavy civil market by continually developing robotics solutions for one of the most challenging job environments."
Within six months, the company introduced TyBot, an autonomous rebar-tying robot that can work alongside crews on bridge deck construction projects.
Muck recalls when TyBot completed its first small bridge project for Brayman just north of Pittsburgh.
“It was a small project, so the robot was able to tie rebar in one day,” Muck says. “My construction crew asked when the robot was going to be back. That’s when I think we were feeling good about things.”
It was also validating when the International Ironworkers Union endorsed TyBot, he adds.
Searock says there’s not many autonomous robots on the market currently because “it’s really difficult.”
“It takes hard earned experience and know-how to take an autonomous robot from the demonstration phase to commercial product that works day in and day out," he says.
To create TyBot, Searock worked with a team from Carnegie Mellon that are “truly world-class."
Muck gathered feedback from Brayman and other large contractors to help shape TyBot early on.
“We were looking for validation from other contractors, not just Brayman, about the viability and benefits of the robot," Muck says. "We were able to take their input into the project. When we commercialized TyBot, many of those contractors ended up being investors.”
TyBot has completed several jobs in Pittsburgh and throughout the U.S. with more projects in the pipeline in Florida and Texas.
Advanced Construction Robotics is looking to expand its repertoire of commercial robots in the future.
TyBot is “the first of many to come,” Searock says. “We’re going to follow the course of this technology that has come of age.”