U of Illinois to create center for autonomous construction

Dive Brief:

  • The University of Illinois’ Grainger College of Engineering will establish a new research and development center dedicated to autonomous construction technologies with up to $8 million in funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to a press release from the university.
  • The new Center for Autonomous Construction in Manufacturing at Scale at the Champaign, Illinois, university will focus on tech areas relevant to the field of autonomous construction, according to the release. Those fields include control systems, expert systems, artificial intelligence, gap crossing and demolition, system architecture and manufacturing technologies.
  • The university anticipates CACMS to be self-funded after its third year, according to the release. Initially, USACE’s Engineer Research and Development Center will provide the program with $2.45 million, with the potential for an additional $1.8 million later in 2023 and $3.75 million in 2024.

Dive Insight:

The center will prioritize translational research from emerging technologies — the U.S. Army and the state of Illinois will be the primary beneficiaries of the center’s work, per the release.

William R. Norris, the founding director of the center, told Construction Dive in an email that the center aims to bring industry together with academia, commercial centers and startups to develop new technologies.

“We believe we can better the pipeline for Illinois and the U.S. to be successful commercially by creating technology that is translatable to any industry where there’s automation,” Norris said in the email.

A team of subject matter experts from the Grainger College of Engineering and Texas A&M University will supervise the first round of research projects, according to the release.

The new center is a spinoff of the UIUC Autonomous and Unmanned Vehicle Systems Lab, of which Norris is also the director, according to the release. Projects completed by AUVSL include a robot-augmented mobility wheelchair device and an architecture for autonomous additive manufacturing with concrete.

In addition to the center, Norris told Construction Dive the university also plans to pull in other professors on seed projects, through a combination of grant money and graduate student submissions. For construction, Norris mentioned an autonomous bulldozer project that can clear minefields and brush, but also fill in trenches and remove obstacles.

“Initially, this is about robotics for [the] military. We want to take these technologies to help make Illinois and the United [States] even more competitive in this space,” Norris said.

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