Incorporating Robotics into Construction

Abhishek Patil (MSR '16) talks about robotics in construction and how his time in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program prepared him to help develop cutting-edge technology for the industry.

Abhishek Patil (MSR '16)When you think of construction, what comes to mind? Abhishek Patil believes most people visualize drilling machines, power tools, or heavy machinery. What they don't think of, he said, is robotics. 

The reality is that robotics plays an enormous role in the industry, from drones used for surveying purposes, advanced robotic manipulation equipment, exoskeletons, augmented reality and virtual reality systems, three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction and modeling, and even artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Patil (MSR '16) has a front-row seat to the integration of robotics within construction. He works as a Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) engineer focused on 3D computer vision at Hilti Group, a company that provides the construction industry with technologically leading products, systems, software, and services. The Hilti website says the company "makes construction sites work simpler, faster, and safer."

"My role involves the development of next generation 3D reality capture systems for the construction industry, where I am playing a key role in defining the requirements and deliverables for final products," Patil said. "It is a very innovative environment that is exciting and highly challenging."

Patil leads the implementation and enhancement of state-of-the-art algorithms in 3D computer vision and SLAM. He works with a cross-functional team made up of developers, cloud professionals, and user interface/user experience (UI/UX) experts, and he also collaborates with members of the company's business unit who focus on testing, development, project management, and marketing. 

"I like the hands-on nature of the role, from designing a novel solution to implementing it and then testing it," he said. "I also enjoy seeing the solutions being tested and having the prototype device be in the hands of customers and working closely with them to solve further challenges." 

Working closely with others is what appealed to Patil about Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program. Not only did he learn about teamwork, time management, and communication skills while working with classmates from all over the world, but he also developed technical abilities that he now relies on daily.

"I became comfortable with programming in languages such as Python, C++, MATLAB, and Robot Operating System (ROS)," he said. "Through the various hands-on projects, I incorporated key skills in problem solving, such as breaking down a problem or project into key milestones and approaching it in a step-by-step, systematic manner." 

Patil doesn't know what the future of construction will look like. What he does know is that he wouldn't be at the forefront of the industry's robotics push without MSR. That's why he doesn't hesitate when he tells current or prospective MSR students to take advantage of their time in the program.  

"Make maximum use of the opportunity to work closely with professors and the flexibility in pursuing hands-on projects," he said. "Maximize the use of the various robots, sensors and rapid prototyping tools from the MSR lab."

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