Construction tech startups are poised to shake up a $1.3-trillion-dollar industry

 Rebar Construction

Rebar is laid before poring a cement slab for an apartment in San Francisco CA.

In the wake of COVID-19 this spring, construction sites across the nation emptied out alongside neighboring restaurants, retail stores, offices and other commercial establishments. Debates ensued over whether the construction industry’s seven million employees should be considered “essential,” while regulations continued to shift on the operation of job sites. Meanwhile, project demand steadily shrank.

Amidst the chaos, construction firms faced an existential question: How will they survive? This question is as relevant today as it was in April. As one of the least-digitized sectors of our economy, construction is ripe for technology disruption.

Construction is a massive, $1.3 trillion industry in the United States — a complex ecosystem of lenders, owners, developers, architects, general contractors, subcontractors and more. While each construction project has a combination of these key roles, the construction process itself is highly variable depending on the asset type. Roughly 41% of domestic construction value is in residential property, 25% in commercial property and 34% in industrial projects. Because each asset type, and even subassets within these classes, tends to involve a different set of stakeholders and processes, most construction firms specialize in one or a few asset groups.

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Quantum sensors could let autonomous cars ‘see’ around corners

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High-precision metrology based on the peculiarities of the subatomic world

Quantum computers get all the hype, but quantum sensors could be equally transformative, enabling autonomous vehicles that can “see” around corners, underwater navigation systems, early-warning systems for volcanic activity and earthquakes, and portable scanners that monitor a person’s brain activity during daily life.

Quantum sensors reach extreme levels of precision by exploiting the quantum nature of matter—using the difference between, for example, electrons in different energy states as a base unit. Atomic clocks illustrate this principle. The world time standard is based on the fact that electrons in cesium 133 atoms complete a specific transition 9,192,631,770 times a second; this is the oscillation that other clocks are tuned against. Other quantum sensors use atomic transitions to detect minuscule changes in motion and tiny differences in gravitational, electric and magnetic fields.

There are other ways to build a quantum sensor, however. For example, researchers at the University of Birmingham in England are working to develop free-falling, supercooled atoms to detect tiny changes in local gravity. This kind of quantum gravimeter would be capable of detecting buried pipes, cables and other objects that today can be reliably found only by digging. Seafaring ships could use similar technology to detect underwater objects.

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UK Army could be 25-percent robotic by 2030, says British general

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Do you want Skynet? Because this is how you get Skynet

The big picture: The UK military is moving forward with plans to develop and deploy several thousand combat robots, some which might be autonomous. So far, militaries worldwide have avoided using unmanned technologies in combat situations. Semi-autonomous drones have a pilot who is always at the controls, so humans make the final strike decisions, not AI.

British Army leaders think that by 2030 nearly a quarter of the UK’s ground troops will be robots. That is almost 30,000 autonomous and remote-controlled fighting machines deployed within about a decade.

“I suspect we could have an army of 120,000, of which 30,000 might be robots, who knows?” General Sir Nick Carter told The Guardian in an interview.

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Autonomous delivery startup Nuro hits $5 billion valuation on fresh funding of $500 million

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Nuro R2 delivery bot

Nuro, the autonomous delivery startup founded by two former Google engineers, has raised $500 million, suggesting that investors still have an appetite for long-term pursuits such as robotics and automated vehicle technology. Nuro now has a post-money valuation of $5 billion.

The Series C round was led by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., with participation from new investors including Fidelity Management & Research Company and Baillie Gifford. The round also includes existing investors such as SoftBank Vision Fund 1 and Greylock.

Nuro was founded in June 2016 by former Google engineers Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu. While the startup was initially bootstrapped by Ferguson and Zhu, it has never struggled to attract investors. Nuro’s Series A funding round of $92 million, which officially closed in June 2017, included Greylock, Banyan and gave NetEase founder Ding Lei (aka William Ding) a seat on Nuro’s board. But it was the monster $940 million investment made by the SoftBank Vision Fund in February 2019 that catapulted Nuro ahead of numerous other startups attempting to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology. Nuro had a $2.7 billion valuation following the SoftBank investment, meaning its value doubled in about 18 months. That money has helped it grow to more than 650 employees.

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Inside China’s iPhone factory: Fascinating footage shows Apple components being made in a fully automated plant manned by robots

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The manufacturer in southern China’s Shenzhen is entirely staffed by robots

The automated plant is dubbed ‘lights-out’ factory with AI-powered machines

It can save costs on labour and energy while improving product quality, it is said

Apple devices and iPhone components are now being produced in a Chinese out-source factory from dusk till dawn without any human workers.

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Chinese Tesla rival Xpeng steers clear of robotaxis, says self-driving trucks more likely to succeed

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Xpeng’s autopilot system Xpilot 3.0 is expected to be included in its P7 smart sedan in early 2021. Photo: HandoutXpeng’s autopilot system Xpilot 3.0 is expected to be included in its P7 smart sedan in early 2021.

It is difficult for self-driving systems to replace human drivers, especially in densely populated cities, Xpeng’s head of autonomous driving says

Self-driving long-haul trucks and robots handling last-mile deliveries are more likely to be successfully automated, according to Xinzhou Wu

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DARPA awards contracts for autonomous ‘Sea Train’

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DARPA concept

 The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded contracts for its Sea Train program, which seeks to enable autonomous vessels to perform long-range transit operations.

In September, Applied Physical Sciences Corp., Gibbs & Cox Maritime Solutions and Mar Technologies were chosen for the program, which will include two 18-month phases.

The contract awards’ total potential values were $31.2 million, $30.4 million and $28.5 million, respectively. Through the effort, DARPA wants “to provide some operational flexibility for medium-sized unmanned surface vessels,” said Andrew Nuss, a program manager within the agency’s tactical technology office. Each company is “developing a unique approach to be able to address the goals of the Sea Train program.”

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Lexus is addressing autonomous car anxiety with innovative designs

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Lexus is reimagining the future of self-driving cars.

Although the future of autonomous cars is certainly exciting, much of what it will look like remains unknown. Will we still sit in the “driver’s” seat or will the interiors of new cars look more like a café? This is one of thquestions that Lexus is trying to answer.

The luxury carmaker partnered with two TED fellows to try and figure out what the future of self-driving vehicles will look like. Moreover, the project aims to lessen some fears about taking away the interactive part of driving.

Although true autonomous cars won’t be a reality for most consumers anytime soon, addressing these problems now will help make their adoption much smoother.

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‘Robot soldiers could make up quarter of British army by 2030s’

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General Sir Nick Carter, chief of the Defence Staff,

Thirty thousand “robot soldiers” could form an integral part of the British army in the 2030s, working alongside humans in and around the frontline, the head of the armed forces said in a television interview on Sunday.

Gen Sir Nick Carter said the armed forces needed “to think about how we measure effects in a different way” – and he called on the government to proceed with the previously promised five-year integrated defence review.

Speaking to Sky News on the morning of Remembrance Sunday, the chief of the defence staff suggested that “an armed forces that’s designed for the 2030s” could include large numbers of autonomous or remotely controlled machines.

“I mean, I suspect we could have an army of 120,000, of which 30,000 might be robots, who knows?” Carter said, although he stressed he was not setting any particular target in terms of future numbers.

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How a hyperrealistic robo-dolphin is paving the way for animatronic aquariums

Imagine, if you will, that David Attenborough or Jacques Cousteau was put in charge of a technologically advanced theme park like the one on the TV series Westworld, offering visitors a plethora of robots to interact with that are so compellingly lifelike as to be indistinguishable from the real thing.

Now imagine that, instead of an old American West setting like Westworld, this high-tech theme park was a robotic version of SeaWorld, filled with dozens of intelligent (or, at least, artificially intelligent) marine mammals, from dolphins to orcas, that look and act just like their ocean-dwelling counterparts. But, you know, without the need to take these animals out of their natural habitats and put them into cramped tanks for our amusement.

That could be the future of marine parks — and it’s one that San Francisco-based engineering company Edge Innovations wants to help make science reality instead of science fiction.

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Robot courier delivering food from shop to home

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From the last week of September onwards, customers of REDI shopping centre may have spotted a small, wheeled robot moving about on its own. Its task is to deliver meals on demand from K-Supermarket to the Majakka high-rise building. Customers can place an order via the building’s Asumi service on their computer or mobile device, and the delivery robot courier will take the products directly to the customer or to the collection point in the building’s shared facilities.

This is an ongoing robot delivery pilot in Kalasatama district in Helsinki implemented by technology company Dimalog in collaboration with Omron and service design agency Muotohiomo. The pilot is coordinated by the city of Helsinki’s innovation company Forum Virium Helsinki with its partners SRV and KONE. SRV is involved regarding the smart living services directed at Majakka residents, while KONE Oyj offers the lift interfaces for the delivery robot to move about in Majakka. Another essential partner is REDI’s K-Supermarket, which has the opportunity to test the robot in its services.

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