ABB Robotics and tech startup deliver affordable housing

ABB Robotics has announced a partnership with the UK-based tech startup AUAR to push forward the development of robotic micro-factories dedicated to the construction of affordable, sustainable, and energy-efficient timber homes.

AUAR's approach incorporates robotic automation into the construction process to address skill shortages, enhance sustainability, and improve health and safety. This is achieved by utilising robots within a global network of local micro-factories that produce buildings from sheet timber. AUAR has recently completed a £2.6M seed funding round, led by the deeptech and AI-focused fund, Miles Ahead, with contributions from ABB Robotics & Automation Ventures and several other investors.

Craig McDonnell, Managing Director Business Line Industries at ABB Robotics, emphasised the role of robotics in addressing the housing crisis: “The increasing capabilities of robots enabled by vision and AI, coupled with their inherent speed, flexibility, and consistency, makes them the ideal solution for meeting the growing need for affordable, high quality, sustainable housing. With 95% of building firms in our recent market survey describing sustainability as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to their businesses, and 38% seeing robots as a way of reducing waste, our collaboration with AUAR opens new possibilities for homebuilders to deliver affordable sustainable homes at scale.”

ABB's commitment to the construction sector extends to aiding companies in automating their processes, with ABB robots being a staple in modular assembly and 3D printing projects globally, as well as in academic research aimed at further integrating robotic automation into construction. The partnership with AUAR is part of ABB's broader efforts to innovate in modular housing manufacturing, including a collaboration with the German management consulting firm, Porsche Consulting.

The brains behind AUAR, Mollie Claypool (CEO) and Gilles Retsin (CTO/Chief Architect), have spent over a decade exploring robotics, automation, construction, and architecture, significantly supported by ABB Robotics. This collaboration has already earned ABB Robotics the accolade of ‘Best Use of Robotics or Automation in Construction’ at the 2023 Robotics & Automation Awards.

AUAR's automated micro-factory model addresses numerous challenges in the construction industry, such as supply chain issues, project delivery, quality, and skills shortages. Unlike traditional construction, which relies on numerous components from diverse sources, AUAR aims to simplify by using a single material type and machine, enabling rapid assembly of customised homes.

This process involves robots cutting standard timber sheets into components and assembling them into units ready for site construction, facilitating the creation of custom homes within weeks. While automation plays a crucial role, the model also supports local jobs through micro-factories situated near construction sites, allowing local contractors and suppliers to streamline delivery.

Each micro-factory is designed to be adaptable to market demands, scalable based on local needs, and capable of increasing production through the addition of modular robot cells. McDonnell further highlighted the potential of this approach: “With the focus on the dual needs of building more affordable homes and minimising the environmental footprint of buildings throughout their lifetime, automated modular construction presents a great opportunity to rethink the way that the buildings are constructed. Our collaborations with AUAR and Porsche Consulting mark an exciting step in our efforts to accelerate the use of robotic automation in the construction industry to help address its challenges and deliver the sustainable buildings of the future.”