Challenges for Human-Robot Collaboration and Shared Work Environments

Challenges for Human-Robot Collaboration and Shared Work Environments

March 21, 2024
Challenges for Human-Robot Collaboration and Shared Work Environments

Collaborative robots (also known as co-bots or cobots) are set to take a larger share of the construction equipment market by 2029. These machines include 3D printers, robotic arms, and other types of automated equipment. 

Collaborative robots are not autonomous. They require human inputs to operate correctly. An example of this collaboration is the Semi-Automated Mason (SAM). It can spread mortar and pick up and place bricks, while the mason remains responsible for adding corners, striking joints, and ensuring overall quality.  

Cobots can streamline work processes, handle heavy lifting, and perform dangerous tasks. The benefits of investing in these tools include increases in efficiency and safety. However, the semi-automated machines also present challenges to the tradespeople who work alongside them and construction managers. 

Here’s a look at the pros and cons of human-robot collaborations in construction.  


Construction firms aim to increase safety by adding robots to their work processes. For instance, robotic arms can perform tasks that would otherwise put employees in more dangerous situations. However, operating these machines in the same workspaces as humans can also cause safety problems

Employees may set up robots to repeat specific tasks. The robot will perform these actions in the work area. If a human isn’t aware of the operation or loses focus, they could easily walk into the trajectory of the robot. Equipment like 3D printers or the SAM robot can move on tracks or frameworks, making it difficult to cordon off the work area. 

Even if the robot operator understands safety protocol, other subcontractors or laborers on the site may not be familiar with the equipment and could unknowingly walk into its path. 


Many of today’s cobots have user interfaces that employees can access to adjust settings. Though these control panels are designed for people without programming knowledge, there can still be communication problems. Adjustments have to occur through the interface. Employees unfamiliar with this process may have trouble setting up the robot and making changes on the job site. 

While there have been some advances in controlling cobots using voice commands, workers who aren’t familiar with the controls may not be able to work in the same area. 


Unexpected situations requiring adjustments or changes to workflow often occur on construction sites. Experienced tradespeople can quickly adapt to new requirements or restrictions. However, robots may not be able to make the same adjustments. 

Robots need to carry out tasks in different temperatures and lighting conditions and work on different tasks depending on the nuances of each project. While sensors and advanced algorithms can help the machinery function in different settings, it is unable to react to situations outside of its programming. Employees can input commands, but the robot will not respond to unfamiliar commands. This could lead to situations where the robot is rendered useless during a job. 


Many employees are worried that their jobs may be replaced by automated machinery. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that 38% of workers are concerned about AI replacing them in the workplace. The use of autonomous robots in construction could have a similar effect on construction laborers and tradespeople. 

Similar findings showed that some employees perceived the use of robots in their workplaces as a threat to job security. Such worries could lead to low morale and an unwillingness to buy into the idea of collaborative robots on construction sites. Employees may be unhappy working alongside machinery they feel could soon replace them altogether. Companies may struggle to get employees to buy into the idea of human-robot collaboration or accept training to work alongside cobots on jobs. 

What Are the Benefits of Human-Robot Collaboration? 

While human-robot collaborations bring challenges to construction firms, they also offer significant advantages. Increases in safety, productivity, and efficiency can benefit tradespeople and their employers. 

Here is a closer look at four of the biggest advantages of cobots in the construction industry. 

Increased Productivity  

Digital tools like AI-enhanced construction takeoff software can improve performance by offering accurate materials and time estimates during project planning. 

Once construction begins, robots can increase productivity. They can work continuously without resting, and they do not suffer from fatigue. With proper maintenance and upkeep, they can potentially work through multiple shifts. 

For example, the SAM bricklaying robot can lay five times as many bricks as a human mason. This frees the mason to work on supports, joints, corners, and other nuanced aspects of the job. The result is increased quality and productivity. 

Improved Employee Experience   

While some employees are concerned about job security, others see the benefits of adding technology to their workflows. Robots can handle manual tasks that lead to fatigue and they can reduce job stress by handling tasks that require error-free performance. Dangerous tasks can also increase work stress. If robots can handle these jobs, employees don’t have to deal directly with hazards. 

Employees are then free to focus on quality assurance or handle high-skill tasks instead of spending most of their day on manual labor. Also, some employees see the freedom from repetitive tasks as a chance to engage in upskilling.  

Error Prevention  

Workplace errors can impact safety and quality. However, automated processes can also increase accuracy. For instance, accurate measurements during project takeoff can help with everything from budgeting to materials management. Some construction software can automate these processes. For instance, companies can rely on AI to read blueprints and collect measurement and materials data. 

The same applies to collaborative robots on job sites. When programmed to handle repetitive tasks, like laying thousands of bricks, a robot will perform the same process and motions for every brick. The same is also true for welding or cement-pouring robots. While a tradesperson needs to monitor the robot’s performance in most cases, the machine does not usually make errors related to fatigue or inattention. 

Reduced Waste 

Collaborative robots can reduce waste by following strict processes and only using specific amounts of material. For instance, robots can accurately measure and cut components, automatically calculating materials usage to minimize waste. 

Estimating software can support this effective use of materials by calculating exactly what the robots need based on project plans and details in BIM software. Here are examples of how this process works. 

The combination of human-robot collaboration and AI-powered software can eliminate most of the waste from poor measurements or planning. 

Collaborative robots are becoming more important in construction. As these semi-automated machines take a larger role in building projects, managers and tradespeople need to be aware of the potential challenges and make plans to deal with them.

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