Repairing buildings has been a time-consuming affair up to now. Scaffolding has to be erected and craftsmen are often busy for weeks on end with the simplest of tasks. How nice it would be if all this could be done with less effort, faster and more accurately. For example, by using a robot that can lift weights of up to one ton.
Such a robot already exists. It forms part of the European Union’s HEPHAESTUS project, which promotes research into robots and autonomous systems in the construction industry. The prototype can turn and move in all directions with the help of eight cables. At the same time, the modular kit can carry a whole range of tools. This allows it to operate any tool to complete a task. This can be a different one each time the Hephaestus robot is used. It also has all the other necessary additional tools on board.
This means the robot could perform multiple tasks within the surrounding building environment. For example, it could scan the building structure to obtain the most accurate data, install prefabricated panels, clean and paint façades of high-rise buildings, replace damaged elements, repair cracks, maintain solar panels, etc. Depending on the size of the façade, the system or the length of the cables can be customized. According to the scientists involved in the project, the biggest challenge is still to achieve the right cable tension.
In central Spain, the researchers have set up a 100-square-meter test rig to replicate a three-story building façade for initial tests of the system.
This is the HEPHAESTUS project
The HEPHAESTUS project, which involves scientists from the Technical University of Munich, is all about novel concepts for the introduction of robots and autonomous systems in the construction sector. Currently, such devices are hardly used here, if at all. The novel solutions are to be used for work on the façade when this part of a building is being constructed or needs maintenance. The HEPHAESTUS project is working on a new, automated way of doing this work and will ultimately provide a total solution for production, installation and maintenance.
HEPHAESTUS is mainly based on a cable-driven robot and integrates several technologies: In addition to this robot, it includes a modular end-effector construction kit. The project aims to boost the construction sector in Europe. At the same time, it aims to position the European robotics industry as a leader and benchmark in the huge and burgeoning robotics market.
Cover photo: The prototype of the cable robot, designed to build, repair and maintain building façades. Image: A. Iturralde