Until recently, it was rare to see robots at construction sites. They’re complex environments to navigate, busy with workers, inherently unstructured and constantly changing. While most buildings are now designed digitally (usually in 3D building information modeling or BIM such as RevIT), actually constructing the physical structure requires translating that digital design to the real world. A key part of this interface between the digital design and physical building process is called “layout”. It’s a complex, slow, and exacting process, and it’s been around forever (like thousands of years). If you’ve ever been on a job site (literally any construction site) you’ve seen people marking spots, stretching and snapping chalk lines, and using things like spray paint and markers to write instructions as to what to build. What could possibly go wrong? The dependence on error prone, manual processes like this are one major reason that productivity in construction has more or less stalled over the past couple of decades (McKinsey), and errors in layout are a huge driver of costly mistakes in construction.
All of that is why we believe Dusty Robotics has a big future and are thrilled to be leading its Series A.
Dusty is building robot-powered tools for the modern construction workforce, starting with a small, BIM-driven robot to automate architectural and structural layouts. Its FieldPrinter – which prints part numbers, dimensions, etc., directly on the floor – tells crews what to build and where things go, turning digital models into constructible layouts. Teams build directly off those plans, identifying flaws in the design documents early in the process, removing the chances of manual error and accelerating a very slow, but important process traditionally done with chalk and string.
Layout is a critical-path job for any new construction project, with cascading effects throughout. By the time mistakes are discovered, cabinets don’t fit and builders have to decide whether to re-order the cabinets or move the walls. Layout mistakes that happen are among the reasons why contractors in the U.S. alone spend $128 billion on rework each year. Dusty aims to change that.
About the size of a Roomba, the FieldPrinter is a semi-autonomous “intelligent printer on wheels” that interprets data generated in BIM and then marks instructions and locations of construction installations (with 1/16" accuracy) directly on the floor. The task might seem simple but it is a challenging task to replicate at scale in a production environment, where accuracy and speed are both non-negotiable. The company estimates the FieldPrinter is five times as fast as the traditional, manual layout with the assurance of nearly 100% accuracy, enabling contractors to speed up project schedules and conduct much less rework at the end of projects. Beyond simply automating the process as it currently stands, Dusty is able to fundamentally reinvent it as well — printing not just bare lines and reference points, but additional information such as specific installation instructions and part numbers to be installed, further speeding the process and removing errors.
Dusty has completed over 1 million square feet of commercial construction in just 8 months with FieldPrinter, including in San Francisco’s 5M Tower (video) and 1028 Market (video), the Police Operations & 911 Dispatch Center (video) in South San Francisco, and Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. Dusty is also on track to increase revenue by at least 300% in 2021 with early customers including Swinerton, DPR Construction, Build Group, and Pankow Builders.
Co-founders Tessa Lau (CEO) and Philipp Herget (CTO) are experienced roboticists with a history designing, building, and commercializing robots. Alumni of another robotics company focused on the hospitality sector (and also both PhDs), they’re passionate about finding industries ripe for disruption by robotics. Cue a house remodel for Tessa in 2018, where she saw one of her contractors on the floor doing layout using chalk and string, and the company was born.
We believe now is the time for Dusty. The digitization of building planning and design has enabled construction to be more precise than ever before, meaning the actual layout process is now the bottleneck. (This applies to new construction, but also retrofitting existing buildings and detailed layouts for larger industrial facilities.) With the pace of construction continuing to exceed the amount of labor available (plus COVID making it difficult to bring workers to a site), companies need to make the best use of their constrained workforces to meet demand.
Introducing new tools into the controlled chaos of a construction site is difficult to do at all, let alone so quickly. That’s why we’re thrilled to see the market respond so enthusiastically and so swiftly to Dusty. If this reaction is any indication, maybe observing robots at construction sites won’t be a rarity for much longer.