They may not look like R2D2 or 3CPO but robots are taking over Australia’s real estate landscape. Check out these clever ways that robots are cutting costs, improving safety and uncovering new value.
Robots do the heavy lifting
While automated robots excel at performing repetitive tasks, construction work is complex and unpredictable. But robots are beginning to transform manual labour into masterpieces of mechanical precision.
Multiplex is using an automated lifting device, dubbed Roborigger, on its New Museum for WA site in Perth to enhance safety.
Developed by TENSA Equipment to aid the installation of wind turbine blades, Roborigger eliminates the need for workers to use taglines or be in proximity to loads during the lifting and lowering phases.
Roborigger harnesses inertial forces, in-built cameras and a slimline tracking system. Internet of Things connectivity captures data on every lift, including an image of each load, weight, location, time and date, and the unit status can be viewed online in real-time.
John Flecker, chief executive officer of Multiplex, says the “overwhelming” safety outcomes sparked his company’s interest in the technology, as it “removes the need for workers to be in the proximity of a high-risk activity”.
Fastbrick Robots is revolutionising a process that has remained static for 6,000 years. FBR’s revolutionary bricklaying robot, Hadrian X (named in honour of Rome’s wall-building emperor), is a 3D robotic bricklaying system that can print a brick house in just three days. In the right environment, each Hadrian X unit can build up to 300 houses a year.
And the EksoVest turns the bionic capabilities of the Six Million Dollar Man from science fiction to reality. This upper body exoskeleton, originally designed for the military, elevates and supports a worker’s arms to make overhead tasks easier and safer. UK contractor Willmott Dixon began trialling the technology, which costs $10,000 per unit, in Wales late last year.
Robots offer a lesson in last mile logistics
Automation gave Amazon an edge in fast delivery and robots are now rapidly taking over fulfillment warehouses.
Charter Hall took home a national property award for innovation in May for Woolworths’ $560 million ‘warehouse of the future’ in South Melbourne. The most technologically-advanced grocery distribution centre in the southern hemisphere features a team of 50 robots that can pack 650 cartons an hour – more than four times faster than the rate of humans.
Coles will invest almost $1 billion over the next six years to kit out automated warehouses in Sydney and Brisbane. Developed by Goodman Group, the warehouses – about nine soccer pitches in length – will be 95 per cent automated. According to Coles chief supply chain officer Matt Swindells the new automated warehouses “will be able to handle twice the volume of goods on half the footprint”.
While these hangar-size fulfilment centres take shape in the outskirts of our cities, Israeli robotics company CommonSense Robotics is looking to crack the last-mile logistics nut. Responding to consumer demand for one-hour deliveries, CommonSense Robotics is converting abandoned urban space – like carparks and basements – into micro-fulfilment robotic centres. The company’s first project, in the basement of a Tel Aviv office tower, is already fulfilling over 400 orders a day in just a 550 sqm space.
The rise of the robot real estate agent
Robotic process automation, or RPA, automates manual, repetitive and rules-based processes and tasks, transforming many back-office functions in real estate and property management. Robots can respond to enquiries, automate reports, clean up data and manage rental inspections.
When AIRE’s digital employee Rita starts work at a new real estate agency, for instance, her first task is to read every single note in every single contact to get up to speed. She can then suggest which contacts should be called and the message most likely to gain cut-through.
Inspect Real Estate, meanwhile, sifts through the 100s of emails that land in an agent’s inbox each day, automating communications without turning people into daleks.
And US-based Zenplace streamlines the house hunting process with robot real estate agents that reduce the time agents spend coordinating and scheduling visits with prospective buyers.
Property management is also evolving as robots take over. Wang Shi, the founder of China's second largest developer, China Vanke, has said that 30 per cent of its property management services – from security to sweeping the floors – will be undertaken by robots over the next 10 years.
Humans and bots can work hand in hand
Property data and analytics firm CoreLogic, meanwhile, is using bots to improve its customer experience by automating simple and repetitive tasks, leaving its human workforce to focus on more complex and high-value tasks.
One of CoreLogic’s first data verification processes, which originally took two hours to complete manually, now takes only six minutes using a bot.
“That’s a significant time saving when you consider we repeat this process hundreds of times a month,” says CoreLogic’s operations leader Sarah Edwards.
CoreLogic is now exploring the use of “attended bots”, where the human and the bot work “hand-in-hand”, taking the legwork out of tasks that still demand the expertise and insight of humans to make final decisions.
“Ultimately, we want to create an environment where our staff have the best technology at their fingertips and are empowered to make smarter and faster decisions. Creating a partnership between people and bots will go a long way towards achieving this vision,” she says.
Edwards encourages property companies to “treat robotics as an integrated change program rather than an isolated process improvement”.
“Bring people on the journey with you, so they can become involved. We started having internal conversations around robotics a year before we launched our first bot, and that allowed us to both dispel fears around human redundancy and educate people on the positives.”