Ryan King will soon be swapping his hard hat and safety vest for a cap and gown when he graduates with his degree in construction engineering and management from the College of Engineering and College of Architecture and Urban Studies in May.

For the past year-and-a-half, King has been an integral member of the Automation and Robotics in Construction and Design Engineering (ARCADE) lab within the Myers-Lawson School of Construction in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and College of Engineering. The lab aims to advance research and development in the next generation of technologies for design, engineering, construction, and operations.

A critical component of the ARCADE lab’s mission is to deliver an array of undergraduate research opportunities. Focus areas include robotic technology, automated solutions, smart and sustainable buildings, adaptive human-centered environments, and other topics and technologies transforming the construction field.

An example of such a study underway at Virginia Tech is the use of  robotics in construction education led by Assistant Professor Kereshmeh Afsari and funded through the Office of Undergraduate Research. King has been highly engaged in this initiative. 

The grant has provided Afsari the opportunity to establish a novel undergraduate research program focused on construction robotics. It also provided the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and the Myers-Lawson School of Construction with new resources, including prototypes of educational robots, to increase student access to undergraduate research opportunities and provide unmatched experiential learning activities for the undergraduate researchers engaged in the project. 

"I really enjoyed learning about research in emerging technologies and gaining experience in the application of robotics in construction and in construction education. I collaborated with a team in developing the educational robots, testing the robots, and conducting a comparison analysis. The team also worked together on prototyping," King explained.

King has also been highly involved in another exciting study investigating the effectiveness of using autonomous robotic technologies to monitor construction progress on university job sites.

He was often found leading Spot, a legged robotic dog by Boston Dynamics in the project sponsored by Procon Consulting, through university construction sites. King has played an important role in the project collecting data at the Creativity and Innovation District residence hall job site, capturing 360-degree progress photos, and denoting Spot’s operational limits and opportunities. He has also tested Spot in the controlled environment to conduct further evaluations around data accuracy, safety concerns, and operations.

Collaborating closely with the research team, industry sponsors, project managers from the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities, and contractors from W.M. Jordan Company, King shared project data and operational learnings gained from working with Spot with a host of stakeholders.

Connecting with audiences from academia, to industry, to undergraduate students, King was an active participant in many presentations.

Spot robotic dog with two MLSOC inside an academic building.
Ryan King, at the controls of Spot, an autonomous robot dog. Photo credit: Myers-Lawson School of Construction.

“Ryan is an outstanding student with a passion for emerging technologies and robotics. He is highly professional and an effective member of our team. His strong collaboration, critical thinking, interpersonal skills, and expertise he has gained through his research will serve him well in his future endeavors after Virginia Tech. We wish him the very best as he embarks on his career,” said Afsari.

What’s next for King after graduating?

He has accepted a full-time position at a construction firm.

“I am proud to have been a part of the construction robotics research team and involved in cutting-edge research with Spot. It has been fascinating to help bridge research and development of autonomous construction robots with testing and implementation on the job site. I’m grateful for all of the learning opportunities offered to me as a student in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction under the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and College of Engineering,” noted King.

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