HP Made a Robot That Prints Blueprints Onto a Construction Site

A job that usually takes weeks could be completed in just days.

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There are lots of incredibly capable robots in research labs around the world, but very few handling real world jobs. Purpose-built bots, like robovacs, have so far been the most successful, but HP’s new robot does the exact opposite of cleaning floors. It instead draws all over them, on purpose, and could potentially become an invaluable tool on construction sites.

After designs have been approved for a new build, after architects and engineers have drawn up detailed blueprints and schematics, and after a construction site has been cleared and prepped for work to begin, the job of layout starts. It typically involves using survey equipment and other highly accurate measurement tools to transfer the dimensions and layouts specified in a blueprint onto the construction site, detailing where everything is supposed to be built.

Like measuring (and re-measuring) a two-by-four before cutting, layout is an incredibly important step that ensures everything is built where it’s supposed to be and to the proper dimensions on the first try, as having to tear down a partial build and start from scratch as a result of a measuring mistake can be costly. But the process is time-consuming, and can often take weeks to complete for larger builds, even with an experienced team of surveyors. HP believes all that work could instead be handled by just one operator and one robot: the SitePrint.

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The HP SitePrint robot pictured from two different angles.
Image: HP

As the name implies, the SitePrint is more or less a rolling printer equipped with sensors that allows it to avoid obstacles. Instead of relying on GPS, which can be inaccessible if the robot is operating indoors, the SitePrint instead connects to a base station featuring surveyor tools that’s manned by a human operator. The surveyor still needs to determine exactly where the robot needs to do its thing, but once oriented, the robot can autonomously work from digital blueprints to roll around a site and mark where everything needs to go.

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Interchangeable printing tools allow the robot to lay down solid lines or dashed lines depending on what the blueprints call for, and it can also print text labels where needed to help reduce confusion between teams. HP has also developed a collection of various inks tailored to different surfaces, environmental conditions, or durability requirements. If the robot’s hard day of work is washed away by an overnight rain and needs to do it all again the next day, it’s not really saving much time.

HP SitePrint in action with Skanska at NY Penn Station | HP

HP claims the SitePrint robot has been tested in over 80 construction projects to date, including airports, hospitals, parking garages, and even residential builds. It’s not quite ready for primetime just yet, but HP is granting early access to it in North America starting this month, with a broader rollout expected sometime next year.