Archive for the ‘construction’ Category

Robots invade the construction site

November 22nd, 2020

Theresa Arevalo was in high school when she first tried finishing drywall at her brother’s construction company. “It’s a fine art,” she says of mudding—applying and smoothing drywall. “Like frosting a cake, you have to give the illusion that the wall is flat.”

Fast-forward a few decades: Arevalo now works at Canvas, a company that’s built a robot using artificial intelligence that’s capable of drywalling with almost as much artistry as a skilled human worker.

The robot has been deployed, under Arevalo’s supervision, at several construction sites in recent months, including the new Harvey Milk Terminal at San Francisco International Airport and an office building connected to the Chase Center arena in San Francisco.

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Posted in AI, Biz & IT, canvas, construction, robots, science | Comments (0)

Why are nuclear plants so expensive? Safety’s only part of the story

November 21st, 2020
Image of two power plant cooling towers.

Enlarge (credit: US DOE)

Should any discussion of nuclear power go on for long enough, it becomes inevitable that someone will rant that the only reason they've become unaffordable is a proliferation of safety regulations. The argument is rarely (if ever) fleshed out—no specific regulation is ever identified as problematic, and there seems to be no consideration given to the fact that we might have learned something at, say, Fukushima that might merit addressing through regulations.

But there's now a paper out that provides some empirical evidence that safety changes have contributed to the cost of building new nuclear reactors. But the study also makes clear that they're only one of a number of factors, accounting for only a third of the soaring costs. The study also finds that, contrary to what those in the industry seem to expect, focusing on standardized designs doesn't really help matters, as costs continued to grow as more of a given reactor design was built.

More of the same

The analysis, done by a team of researchers at MIT, is remarkably comprehensive. For many nuclear plants, they have detailed construction records, broken out by which building different materials and labor went to, and how much each of them cost. There's also a detailed record of safety regulations and when they were instituted relative to construction. Finally, they've also brought in the patent applications filed by the companies who designed the reactors. The documents describe the motivations for design changes and the problems those changes were intended to solve.

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Posted in construction, Energy, nuclear power, science | Comments (0)