Roin Acquisition Strengthens Built Robotics Offering and Unicontrol Steps up US Distribution


New developments at construction robotics organizations suggest 2023 could be a breakout year when heavy and light construction equipment becomes more autonomous. Acquisitions to consolidate intellectual property and new distribution to bring advanced tech to the North American market.

San Francisco-based Built Robotics, which markets its robotic Exosystem™ for aftermarket automation of popular equipment classes today announced the acquisition of Roin Technologies, the makers of the first automated concrete power trowel. The acquisition will grow the capabilities of Built's engineering team and accelerate key technological developments to expand automation beyond construction into new applications and markets.

Roin Technologies was part of Y CombinatorBatch W21 investment round, and the company’s line of automated robots for concrete floor construction enabled one person to perform the work of six—which given interest in using automation to ease worker shortages is significant.

IP and Smart People Come in the Deal

Coming in the acquisition is the intellectual property behind Roin’s automated concrete trowel, and Built Robotics sources said the company will be launching new products based on this technology, likely touching on concrete, in the coming year. But this is not the only way the acquisition will help Built Robotics and its equipment automation product offering.

“We are also getting Roin Technologies principal Jim Delaney,” Built Robotics Founder and CEO Noah Ready-Campbell said. “He is a rockstar, and will be playing a big role on our engineering team. What that means is that Built Robotics will be looking beyond earth moving.”

But according to Ready-Campbell, Delaney will also being a more sophisticated approach to construction automation in general, and this has the potential to improve Built Robotics’ existing exoskeleton product line.

“A lot of it is related to the core software infrastructure,” Ready-Campbell said. "The way Roin designed their system was very clever. This will help us make our exoskeleton products faster and more reliable in the field.”

The infusion of software infrastructure smarts will enable Built Robotics’ current products to perform better, and expand beyond the repetitive use cases, including trenching, the company had been focusing on.

“The autonomous trenching solution has been battle-tested,” Ready-Campbell said. “Depending on the type of work, we are seeing 1,500 feet per day of trench in the ground, at good quality so you can get cable and pipe in it right away.”

In the interim, Built Technologies will discontinue Roin’s current line of products. New products leveraging the Roin technology, which according to Ready-Campbell may or may not focus, as did Roin, on concrete, will be launched at CONEXPO-Con/Agg 2023 in March.


Unicontrol Adds North American Distribution

Founded in 2018 in Odense, Syddanmark, Norway and with boots on the ground in North America as of early 2022, Unicontrol has launched Unicontrol3D, a straightforward guide-on-the-side interactive tool to make excavation easier. In a March 2022 briefing with ForConstructionPros, Unicontrol Chief Commercial Officer Ehsanullah Ekhlas described how the company is offering a software-centric approach that makes using excavators, wheel loaders and backhoes more intuitive, putting technology in the hands of even the smallest contractor and potentially making rental equipment easier to use.

“The contractor is asking for help because they have to document everything they are doing,” Ekhlas said. “Some need GPS to get the job. For them, getting into a bigger brand has been quite expensive and quite complicated. They may be afraid of machine control.”

While Unicontrol does not automate production, it does automate data collection for production reporting and as-builts. This, along with eliminating the cost of a third-party surveyor or flag man, makes for rapid ROI.

The company is currently actively searching for distributors in North America, but has already succeeded in finding companies to sell and install the hardware on equipment in New England and Canada.

“We are searching for companies that may already be selling automation solutions from our competitors,” Unicontrol Director for U.S. and North America Rich Hilliker said. “These people are dealing with these products, know what they are doing and want something else to offer the market.”

The Unicontrol product line would represent a real opportunity for new revenue from new products.

“We have an awful lot of white space on the distributor map,” Hilliker said. “They are few and far between. But we plan to announce some new distributorships at CONEXPO-Con/Agg.”

New Products for North America

New distributors are coming, but according to Ekhlas, so are new products.

“In terms of product, we have the dozer and skid steer attachment,” Ekhlas said. “Next there will be a rover solution. I think it is hard to say where we will end up. We will continue to explore new automatic and semi-automatic features. Our equipment guidance solution is designed to be 40 to 50 percent cheaper than equipment automation solutions on the market, but when we go automatic, that price point will be a bit closer.”

These automatic and semi-automatic features will be released to market not just for excavators, which has been Unicontrol’s initial focus, but on other equipment classes that are more commonly used in North American than on Unicontrol’s European home turf.

“The first thing we are working on is blade solutions and skid steer attachments,” Ekhlas said. “We are are relying on pull signals from the market to prioritize our next moves.”

What this means is that a large fleet owner may be able to influence Unicontrol’s direction to get their automation priorities addressed.

“You cannot always sell a future vision if nobody has asked for it,” Ekhlas said. “We have tried to add more products—dozers, rovers, excavators, backhoes, skid steers. We are trying to accommodate these complex contractors that have a vast machine fleet in different places. And it is different in the United States. We started as Scandinavia, and here you use excavators for grading, moving dirt—it is like a Swiss Army knife. In the United States, it is used only for one thing. So we are going to address how important the dozer solution is in some specific places.”

Also important for Unicontrol to address in the North American market will be connectivity.

“When we look into some European markets, there are broadband networks contractors pay a subscription to,” Hilliker said. “In the United States and Australia, you need a base station and radio—this is a different workflow that needs to be adapted to local means.”

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