University to Build Autonomous Tech Center


The University of Illinois’ Grainger College of Engineering is reportedly set to be the site of a new research and development center, dedicated to autonomous construction technologies.

According to the release, the center will receive funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and will focus on answering questions related to autonomous construction technologies. 

About the Center

The release states that the mission of the new Center for Autonomous Construction in Manufacturing at Scale (CACMS) will focus on translational research, “turning emerging technologies and basic research efforts into real-world solutions for the U.S. Army and the state of Illinois.”

Specifically, the center will focus on research for control systems, expert systems, artificial intelligence, gap crossing and demolition; system architecture; and manufacturing technologies such as additive manufacturing.

According to the release, several vehicle types will be tested and developed, including traditional wheeled vehicles, skid-steers and tracked vehicles.

CACMS will reportedly serve as a partnership resource for the Army Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center (USACE ERDC), enabling targeted interdisciplinary research using congressionally direct funding from Senator Dick Durbin’s office.

“This new center will provide leadership in translational research related to autonomous construction systems; support the growth of entrepreneurial ecosystems, programs and expertise; provide a community hub for emerging technologies; and help strengthen Illinois’ reputation as a technologically advanced and high-tech hub within the US,” said Professor William R. Norris, the center’s founding director.

The new center is reportedly a spin-off of his UIUC Autonomous and Unmanned Vehicle Systems Lab (AUVSL), which has received over $5.5M in external funding since 2018. Key projects completed by AUVSL have reportedly included ones on expert systems in construction, autonomous construction systems, a robot-augmented mobility wheelchair device and an architecture for autonomous additive manufacturing with concrete.

The center will also reportedly work as a pipeline for solutions to technical problems within the academic, business and government domains. Additionally, it will reportedly contribute to maintaining the U.S. technical expertise in robotics and autonomous systems.

CACMS is expected to establish UIUC and the state of Illinois as a hub for innovation and translation in the autonomous construction area. It will reportedly align its work with new research directions; provide training, conferences and workshops; and promote partnerships among academia, industry and government.

Efforts to establish CACMS were reportedly supported at UIUC by the Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering (ISE), Grainger Engineering, a Strategic Research Initiative grant and the Discovery Partners Institute.

According to the release, the center is designed to be self-funded after its third year. Initially, it will reportedly be funded with $2.45 million from ERDC, with the potential for an additional $1.8 million later in 2023 and $3.75 million in 2024.

The first round of research projects will reportedly be supervised by a team of subject matter experts from the Grainger College of Engineering and Texas A&M University.

The center, the release states, comes on the heels of UIUC and ERDC’s signing of a new Educational Partnership Agreement and a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA).

Between UIUC and ERDC, the Educational Partnership Agreement will reportedly encourage and enhance study in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)fields, such as materials science and engineering, computer and data science, digital twinning, physics, robotics, supply chain logistics and sustainability and resilience.

Additionally, the CRADA will reportedly help to enable closer collaboration in researcher efforts of interest to the military.

Recent Autonomous Technology News

In June, a spinoff from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology introduced a new automation workflow to monitor stockpile inventory using robotics and artificial intelligence. According to reports, Tinamu is “transforming” building material inventory management by enabling early identification and resolution of discrepancies.

Traditional stockpile volume measurement is said to be prone to errors and take time, while keeping accurate and up-to-date inventory records of materials can prove to be a daily challenge. Solutions such as weighbridges, conveyer scales and draft surveys also have their own limitations.

As a result, inventory recency and confidence can be low, leading to logistic and operations inefficiencies. However, Tinamu says that its AI-powered autonomous drone system captures high-resolution images of stockpiles to analyze data and deliver precise volumetric measurements in a matter of hours.

Using autonomous drone navigation, cloud-based and AI-driven data processing, the technology reportedly offers a user-friendly platform to deliver periodic volume measurements of stockpiles with below-centimeter precision.

As the drones gather data, it is uploaded to the cloud, processed with AI and then returned to the user within a few hours through a web interface dashboard. These interfaces reportedly enable tracking of changes in material distribution and analysis of inventory trends over time.

Additionally, they provide detailed inventory data for each stockpile that’s been surveyed, enhancing monitoring and logistics planning and maximizing warehouse utilization.

According to a study from automation solution Yooz in May, the construction industry ranks the lowest in technology competence among surveyed industries. The study regarding technology in the workplace also reported that half of U.S. workers under the age of 25 associate their industry’s adoption of technology to their prospects of career advancement.

The report surveyed 600 U.S. professionals with a minimum salary of $50,000 who worked in 10 fields, asking them to describe their experiences and perceptions of workplace technology this year.


Tagged categories: Colleges and Universities; Construction; Engineers; Funding; Manufacturing Plant; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Quality Control; Research and development; Robotics; Technology; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

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