You've probably already seen the scary headlines. Robots are taking over the construction industry. Self-driving machines are laying bricks, pumping out pre-fabricated components and even printing entire buildings from the ground up. It's the mechanical apocalypse for construction workers!

Well, probably not. The days of human-free construction sites staffed by robots from the future are probably still decades off, if they ever come at all. What's happening, though, is the industry's responding to  the skills shortage by leaning less on pure manpower to get the job done. It's a fight for the future, alright – but probably not the Terminator sequel the papers are imagining. The industry's still going to need people, but the skills they bring are starting to shift.

Survey Drones

We're already seeing robotic drones being used to survey sites, for instance. Those drones still need operators, though, and people to make decisions based on the data they supply.

Similarly, a lot of the “3D printing” revolution in construction is based around building parts in a factory to be assembled later on-site.

Mechanical Exoskeletons

In fact, quite a lot of the research into construction robots is designed to make life easier and safer for human workers. Mechanical exoskeletons, for example, are looking to move out of Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters and onto building sites.

A trained operator wearing one of these frames can lift loads far too heavy for a single worker, and manipulate them more safely, as well as being just what you need to fight off any Alien Queens you find nesting in your pipework.

Certainly, there's a case for saying this will reduce the number of people needed to complete a project. At the same time, though, you've got to remember that right now there just aren't enough boots on the ground to face the industry's future demands.

3D Printed Buildings

One of the most ambitious experiments in robotic construction has to be on-site 3D printing. We're talking about machines that will reportedly be putting up functional houses in 24 hours.

It's going to be a while before we see how realistic that future is, of course. As thing stand, there are a lot of unanswered questions – but it's something a lot of people in construction are keeping an eye on.

Constructing the Future

At the end of the day, we're probably going to see a reduction in the grunt-and-sweat side of construction from all this. That's not the same as driving people out of the industry, though. What we're really looking at is a broader definition of what it means to work in the industry.

The robots may end up laying a lot of the brickwork, but we'll still need people with technical skills to run them. Relying less on manpower could actually take some of the pressure off the industry in the coming years, bringing risks down and making more ambitious projects realistic.

We're in the foothills now of a huge government push toward boosting the construction industry. Some of the specific skills needed might change over the coming decades, but there'll always be a need for qualified workers. New people entering the trade might come from very different fields in the years to come. However, the demand for skilled workers won't be dropping off for the foreseeable future.

Make sure you've got your tax refund claimed, and all your preparations made, before the robot wars begin!