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Construction robots designed to beat worker shortage

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(23 Apr 2018) LEADIN:
Robots that can weld, lift heavy goods and bolt things together are being developed for use at building sites in Japan.
Japanese construction company Shimizu Corporation says its robots can do repetitive, difficult jobs that human workers don't want to do.
STORYLINE:
Shimizu Corp's new Robo-Buddy is busy putting a ceiling together.
It's designed to be able to pick up things like ceiling panels, and then lift them and bolt them in place.
It's one of the new robots Shimizu Corp is developing for use on building sites.
Managing Executive Officer Masahiro Indo, who's director of the company's construction technology division, says the robots are designed to make up for a shortfall in the human workforce.
"In construction you do work in dangerous locations and carry heavy things over and over again. It's a repetitive occupation and there are fewer and fewer people who do these jobs because they think that the construction industry is hard work. So we think robots could skilfully help with these jobs," he says.
The Robo-Welder, Robo-Buddy, and Robo Carrier are expected to arrive at construction sites later this year.
But they'll be limited to night shifts when human workers won't be around because of safety and regulatory concerns.
Japan is undergoing a construction boom but lacks enough workers to do the jobs - a problem seen in many regions of the world, including the US.
The robots being demonstrated at the Shimizu test facility here in Tokyo can reduce the number of workers needed for each of the tasks they carry out to about a third or a quarter of what's required today, the company says.
But construction work is so varied, delicate and complex that the robots are able to handle just one percent of overall construction work, according to Indo.
Robotics are common in manufacturing sites such as auto plants, but those machines are stationery and carrying out the same task over and over, often in sterile and enclosed environments.
Robots used in construction sites have to move around.
Although much of what they may do is repetitive, they still have to respond to uneven floors and zigzagging routes, depending on a building's design.
In Japan, where the birth rate has been declining for years, the workforce has also begun to shrink.
Shimizu Corp says construction firms are having a hard time attracting young people.
There were about 3.4 million construction workers in Japan in 2014. That's expected to shrink to 2.2 million by 2025, according to Shimizu Corp.
Shimizu, which is involved in a number of overseas projects, said it was looking into exporting the robotics technology, but no decision has been made yet.

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