Construction automation, robotics researcher to join architectural engineering

Mariah Chuprinski
July 09, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Kurt Lundeen, a former foreman in the commercial construction industry and an expert in new construction technology, joined Penn State’s Department of Architectural Engineering on July 1 as assistant professor.

Lundeen’s research on construction automation and robotics focuses on improving how well machines can understand and localize within a construction scene while also modelling individual sections of work. All of these pieces come together as the foundation for how the robotic equipment can plan its motions and execute its task while also adapting to a changeable environment.

This technology is greatly needed in the construction industry, according to Lundeen, as workers often perform “dirty, detested and dangerous construction work.”

Lundeen cited issues like cost, safety, duration of a project and too much variation in the quality of a project as examples of areas where the construction industry can improve.

“A lot of times when you have to do high-elevation work you have to assemble and install scaffolding structure,” Lundeen said. “There are opportunities to use robotics in those duties to reduce time to assemble and install the scaffolding. And then you wouldn’t have humans working at dangerous heights.”

Lundeen also plans to integrate Building Information Modeling, or BIM, and construction robotics, so that robots have access to information about their environment and can navigate easily in construction sites that often have many obstacles, Lundeen said.

Lundeen also will introduce an undergraduate and a graduate course on construction automation and robotics. 

The courses will involve designing hands-on projects, where students will have the opportunity to implement their own robotics solutions to solve robotics problems. 

In addition, Lundeen is setting up two construction robotics labs.

One lab will contain a large robot arm that will be used to research how robots can assist in the performance of full-scale construction work by advancing algorithms and methods in robot perception, adaptive work planning and work execution, as well as by studying the evolution of construction processes and collaboration with human coworkers.

The other lab will contain several mobile robots used to research robot localization, path planning and manipulation, such as by using omnidirectional mobile manipulators to explore the complex maneuvers needed to operate in congested construction environments.

“I’m excited to see the labs come to life,” Lundeen said.

According to Sez Atamturktur, Harry and Arlene Schell Professor and head of the Department of Architectural Engineering, Lundeen’s planned research could have a significant impact in construction.

“Automation and robotics in construction will cut costs, increase productivity, enhance quality, reduce fatalities and reduce workforce demands,” she said. “Kurt’s research leverages the recent advances in building digital design, data science and control for the growing quantity and quality of data to enable commensurate advances in automation and robotics.”

Lundeen began his career working as a foreman for his father and uncle’s commercial construction business, Truss Plus Inc., based in Davenport, Iowa, close to where he grew up in East Moline, Illinois. Truss Plus Inc. specializes in finish carpentry, walls, ceilings, doors and cabinets.

While working for the family business, Lundeen discovered his passion for the engineering side of construction. After 10 years as a foreman, he enrolled at Iowa State University where he earned a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering, going on to earn an master of science in mechanical engineering and a master of science in robotics from the University of Michigan. 

He rounded out his academic career by earning his doctorate degree in civil engineering from the University of Michigan, where he completed his dissertation on robotics. 

Last Updated July 09, 2019