When Function Meets Form: Introducing Canvas and a Breakthrough for the Construction Industry

Scott Brady
Nov 19, 2020 · 3 min read
Photo courtesy of Canvas

Bringing robotics to the construction industry has always posed a substantial challenge: robotics rely on having seen the environment before and for that environment to remain relatively static.

But anyone who’s ever driven by a building going up knows a construction site changes every day — from pouring the foundation to framing to electrical. It’s the very definition of an evolving, dynamic environment — and that’s been the rub for successfully introducing robotics in construction.

Today, that changes with the launch of Canvas.

We’re excited to announce our investment in this groundbreaking construction technology company, which is moving drywall from a physically taxing and labor-intensive artisanal process to an exact science by putting robots in the hands of skilled trade workers onsite.

It’s a remarkable leap forward. The Canvas leadership team — Kevin Albert, Henrik Bennetsen, and Maria Telleria — took inspiration from prior work with robotic research center Otherlab, where they worked on a DARPA-funded research project that centered on robots applying or removing high-performance coating. And they leveraged the super evolution of technology advances — shifts in edge compute, perception technologies, robotics, advanced materials, and LIDAR systems — to build a solution that would not have been possible even three years ago.

In the world of construction, doing drywall differently is, simply put, a big deal. The standard way is a huge amount of work that’s done almost entirely by hand, from taping the wall to applying joint compound to sanding. It’s backbreaking, dusty, and a huge driver of musculoskeletal injuries for workers. With Canvas, the approach rests on shared autonomy with a human operator controlling the robot or robots, ensuring its access to the required tools and materials. They work in tandem to deliver a level of quality and speed that no human could match alone, reducing the time to deliver results from a seven-day process to just two days.

In developing this entirely new way of finishing walls, Canvas has built an approach that’s functionally better than the way it’s currently done — for the same price and at enhanced speed. Without cost constraints or schedule risks, general contractors, developers, and architects are truly freed to design without restriction, using every tool in their chest to create beautiful walls and artisanal finishes that exceed industry standard in their buildings. With new levels of quality, safety and control, the Canvas team is opening new doors in the industry.

And that includes workers.

Canvas is also putting the worker front and center with this system. Construction faces a major labor shortage in the U.S. as fewer workers enter the field and more experienced workers retire early. They partnered with union leadership to think through how they could unite workers’ expertise with technology that gives them a real, extensible career runway. Running a robot is an exciting opportunity for the next generation construction worker who wants to develop expertise in modern technology. Together with the Canvas approach, these workers can deliver manufacturing-level precision.

We’re excited to see how Canvas builds out this promising business.

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