Dr. Tessa Lau of Dusty Robotics joins the podcast to talk about her entrepreneurial background, where the idea for Dusty came from, what Dusty the robot does on construction sites to enable multiple trades to be more efficient and ultimately cut weeks off construction schedules, the design, brand, and persona of the robot, how Dusty works, who’s adopting Dusty as a tool for projects, and much more.
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117: ‘Every Day Counts’, with Tessa Lau
[00:00:00] Welcome to the TRXL podcast. I'm Evan Troxel. This is the podcast where I have conversations with guests from the architectural community and beyond to talk about the co-evolution of architecture and technology. A little bit of housekeeping upfront here. Are you signed up to receive the weekly-ish TRXL AEC/tech email newsletter.
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Okay. In this episode, I welcome Dr. Tessa Lau considered one of the most influential women in robotics. Tessa is an award-winning CEO and roboticist Who's most recent venture dusty robotics is revolutionizing the construction industry.
Dusty automates the BIM to field layout process through a robotic field printer, eliminating costly errors and speeding up construction schedules. Prior to dusty robotics. She was the co-founder CTO and chief robot whisper At Savioak robotics, Where she automated hotel delivery and orchestrated the global distribution and management of consumer facing robots. Tessa was also an early member of Willow garage, the legendary research lab and technology incubator known as one of the most influential forces in modern robotics. Though closing its doors in 2014, Willow Garage is responsible for the creation of an open source robot operating system. That's still being used by academics, engineers, and hobbyists around the world today. Dr. Lau is a frequent speaker [00:02:00] at business technology and construction conferences and has received numerous awards including Silicon valley business. Journal's women of influence SVRs innovation award and the award for excellence from the association of computer machinery. Currently living in Silicon valley. Dr. Lau holds a PhD in computer science from the university of Washington. In this episode we discussed Tessa's background where the idea for dusty came from what dusty the robot does on construction sites to enable multiple trades to be more efficient and ultimately cut weeks off of construction schedules The design brand and persona of the robot How dusty works Who's adopting dusty as a tool on projects and much more so without further ado i bring you my conversation with Dr. Tessa Lau.
Evan Troxel: Tessa, welcome. Great to have you on the podcast.
Tessa Lau: Evan great to be here.
Evan Troxel: This one has been, long in the making and I really [00:03:00] appreciate you out time as the c e o and entrepreneur. And, you know, I can only imagine what your schedule's like. So, let's jump right into it. if you can give us a bit of your origin story. How did you get to where you are with Dusty Robotics? and where'd you come from?
Tessa Lau: Sure. So, I'm a technical founder. I started in computer science. Went to IBM for 11 years doing research in enterprise software automation. And then I got into robotics. That was about 10 years ago. I joined a company called Willow Garage, which was the premier research lab for robotics at the time and I didn't know anything about robotics when I started, so I learned everything I could. And, I was doing research in how to allow end users to program robots when unfortunately, Willow Garage shut down. And so a couple of us, , decided to start a robotic startup. And, , that startup, was called Savioke.
We were building robots that delivered room service to guests staying in [00:04:00] hotels. And I was the cto, so I led the teams that built the robots, figured out how to deploy robots in hotels All around the world. , but unfortunately after five years of that, it wasn't really taking off. So my co-founder and I decided we wanted to start a new company and, we looked around for what industry could benefit from robotic automation.
And I had just finished a house remodel at that time. And so I was thinking, well, you know, maybe this construction industry might be a good fit for robots, but I didn't know anything about construction and neither did Phil. So we bought hard hats and still towed boots and started walking around on construction sites
Evan Troxel: right. Cool.
Tessa Lau: and, and we met lots of people, lots of really interesting, you know, construction workers from project execs and VPs down to laborers and, and the individual people who do the work.
We were looking for opportunities to build robotic automation that would actually help the industry. So, we [00:05:00] went through a lot of different ideas, , probably over a dozen different ideas of robots until we finally stumbled upon this problem of layout, we saw people on their hands and knees using measuring tape and string to mark out dimensions on the floor
Evan Troxel: I was doing that exact thing today.
Tessa Lau: Yeah, the chalk line was invented by the early Egyptians 5,000 years
Evan Troxel: No way.
Tessa Lau: has not changed. It has not changed a bit since then.
Evan Troxel: Right.
Tessa Lau: so you can thank the Egyptians.
Evan Troxel: I was thinking of just your robotics as like this amazing chalk line. So Yeah.
Tessa Lau: Yeah. Exactly. So, you know, when we saw people doing that in the field, we were like, you know, that that's something that we can do much better with the robot because it's so inefficient. Right? And it's, it's all manual, it's all, , people trying to do this job perfectly. And not so surprisingly, people aren't perfect.
And it's something that would be much better done by robots. And we thought about it and we talked to our advisors in the industry and they all [00:06:00] said, oh, yes, I would. I would use that. I would pay for that. And so Dusty was born?
Evan Troxel: Wow. Incredible. it's so funny too because there's so many limitations to a chalk line, right? I mean, it does some amazing things. You can use it as a plum, bob. You can do it vertically. You can. Can do it horizontally, but. You can't do curves with it. Like there's, there's other things that it just doesn't lend itself to.
And, and then what? Right. And so when you talk about that idea of people being imperfect and like there we go through great pains on the architecture side to lay these things out and to create these slab edge plans and, you know, all these incredibly dimensioned drawings to get the layout is. So that we get the design intent that we have in our, our vision, right?
And yet there are still so many breakdowns along the line that could happen. They don't always happen. There's some incredibly sophisticated contractors out there, but this has gotta be one of those things where when they first saw it, it was like, wait, what? I
Tessa Lau: It's mind
Evan Troxel: is in incredible.
Tessa Lau: it, and it, still is, , we still [00:07:00] have, actually, , TikTok is a very popular media for us. we don't actually post on TikTok. It's our fans that do,
Evan Troxel: Oh, that's, that's even better. Even better when someone else is talking about you and you're not just talking about yourself. Right?
Tessa Lau: exactly. And so someone posted, uh, it was a construction influencer. I can look it up and send it to you that posted a video about us on TikTok and it got over a billion views.
that was last month. And you know, it wasn't us, right? We didn't publish it. But this is a testament to how, how, how much of a need this really addresses in the industry. People see this and they share it with their friends. All you have to do is see the robot in action for five seconds and you know, immediately, what is this?
Why is this important? And anyone who's snapped a chalk line like you have just can look at it and say, oh yeah, I get it. That's, that's what I want.
Evan Troxel: Wow. Well, I'm curious about a lot of things here from the architect's interest to the [00:08:00] contractor's interest. I can imagine that's probably different, but I would say
similarly, I don't know, eye-opening right for them and excited because. Breaking down the barriers of what it takes to get that design intent realized is a huge piece of the puzzle. and I'm sure a lot of architects are interested in any tool to make that process more seamless, more realizable. So maybe you can start with, were contractors always your target audience. You said you bought hard hat and boots, right? So you, you wanted to look the part when you walked onto the construction site and, and blend in. But the, is that, is that really always been the target market and then you've kind of reversed back out of that to go to a wider audience? I mean, because it. architects don't really get to tell contractors what to do at all, right? we have these set of drawings that say, here's, here's what we want, but there's, there's a pretty clean break unless it's a design build entity or something like that So just maybe walk us through kind of where you started and then how that spread, how that, idea [00:09:00] spread.
Tessa Lau: Yeah. I'll start with, let me start with efficiency. So I personally, , I prize efficiency, , in my personal life, in my professional life, our company. and the reason why is because I think I've got a limited number of days on this earth, and I wanna make the most of those days.
Yeah. And we all do, right? But I don't know how many I'm gonna get. , and you don't know how many you're gonna get. And so? what are you going to do with those days, right. Every day counts. , and so the same is true of our company. , and I see the same as true of construction. Right. You have a limited amount of time in which to build that project, to get that building delivered and turned over to your client.
Every day that you have that you spend working on that project, it matters, Right. And so efficiency is top of mind for everyone in the construction industry, and that's why it appeals so much to me because, you know, it's a personal. I guess mission for me to make the world more efficient. And so it's a natural fit for me to focus on the construction industry and [00:10:00] create, better tools, better innovations, better technology for this industry to do better.
Evan Troxel: I love that. And creating tools is something I've always been interested in. It's like the things that you have to make to make the things. And I, I've built jigs before for different projects that I've worked on, for things that I, you, you wanna be able to repeat doing and building tools to accomplish that, that don't exist.
Right. And that, to me is, is really interesting. And so How did you, I mean, you have this background in robotics and like, what was that spark when you walked onto a giant slab and said, what if we draw lines on this? What, how did that happen? How did that connection happen?
Tessa Lau: I'll tell you the longer version of that story cuz it's a lot of fun. from a high level, right, my mission, my passion in life has always been. Building tools that give people superpowers, right? That's what automation is, that's what robotics are, and it's all, it's not about doing the [00:11:00] work, Right. Because I believe people are amazing, they're smart, they're creative, they're talented, and, and construction is no different. I'm actually very impressed by all of the people I've met in the construction industry. And so what I want to do with my life is to give those people the tools to do their job better.
You know, 10 x better, faster, more accurately than they were doing it before. And so that to me is, is why Dusty exists and it's why we do what we do. So let me tell you about how we got to, , the field printer and, and printing layout on the ground. , I told you that we were iterating through a lot of different robot ideas.
, we came up with probably a dozen different ideas. We were, , testing them with prospective customers, and one of the ideas that we came up with at that time was the idea of a robotic vacuum cleaner for construction, and it would suck up all the dirt and the dust and debris and collect it and take it off site , And clean up the job site because everyone knows that a clean site is a safe site, it's an efficient site.
There's fewer [00:12:00] falls and trips and hazards. And so , it's something that has to happen on every single job. Right. so we were, my, my co-founder and I were, I. Doing the research to try to figure out what would a robotic vacuum look like. In order to do that, we picked up brooms and started sweeping on a job site just to see What? does the material look like?
How heavy is it? How dense is it? You know, what's it made of? Where does it go when it's swept up? And as we were doing that, we happened to look at the ground. And on the ground there are all these marks. , there were chalk lines, there was, there were spray paint, right? There were dimensions and numbers. And we asked our hosts like, What are those, you know, how did those? get there? And so we learned about layout. And when I discovered how layout is done today, Right. with the chalk lines and the string and the measuring tape and the architectural shop drawings, I thought that's inefficient. Right. How can, how can buildings possibly get built if this is how people are marking out where everything needs to go? But yet, that's how it's always been done. And [00:13:00] so we thought we could build a robot that would just do that a lot more efficiently, with a lot fewer mistakes, with complete accuracy. And that idea just really resonated with all the people that we talked to.
Evan Troxel: Very cool. I, I want to know like how it all works, but before that, what was like the worst idea? You, you had 10 different ideas. What was the lamest or what, what, what was just like obvious, okay. that would've never worked after, after all this
Tessa Lau: Oh I don't know. I, I, I won't tell you about, , the worst ideas that we had because they're actually companies that are trying to do them right now. So I don't wanna offend anyone. , but I will tell you, , one of the things that happened was that we, like, I would say like for every 10 people, we asked, um, you know, what robot should we build for you? You know, what would you like us to build? We would get 12 different answers. And all of them were bad ideas. people would take like the worst jobs that they had as an intern or as a high school kid coming into construction and say, I hated that job, so can you please build a [00:14:00] robot that would do that?
Evan Troxel: anything to end my pain, right?
Tessa Lau: yes, exactly. And it would usually be like a humanoid robot That, would scale the side of the building and, you know, do something. Or maybe it would like, You know, put down safety fencing or something. Right. And it was kind of a, a low value job that you would probably assign an intern to do, or, you know, a fresh OUTTA school kid.
Evan Troxel: so you came up with this idea of, of a robot that draws on slabs. So how did you decide it was gonna be a wheeled robot? there's so many decisions of what that, there's that idea and then there's how you actually get there and, and what has led to that. And, you know, industrial design is something I'm really interested in. I love how Dusty looks like. It's just a, a cool looking. It, it's very like, almost outta the Star Wars universe. Like it's, it's like that kind of a, it's not like highly polished. It's not shiny. It's, it looks like it belongs on a construction site, which I love about it because, I lo I personally love tools. Like I, I have tools that have such [00:15:00] a cool patina to 'em. Something I guess maybe has always drawn me to like the Star Wars universe too, is everything is just kind of used, like well used. and that's interesting. Not, not that your robots look used, but they look like they fit in on a construction site as a tool to do work. Right. it's not just something that is like a prize possession, much like the droids in. Star Wars, right? It's just like they're, they're there to do real things and they get beat up and they get knocked around and they keep on going. And maybe take us through the thought process of the design, and I don't know if there's been iterations along the way. I'm sure there have I'm sure it's highly iterative, but take us through That process of of saying, okay, well here's the here's what we want to do then how do you get there?
Tessa Lau: I'll tell you two stories. , one of them is about why it has wheels, and the second one is how we ended up with something that, that does look like it belongs on a construction site. when we first started Dusty, right? And we realized that we wanted to build a, a robot that would, would draw lines on the ground, we were exploring a lot of different ideas and some [00:16:00] of those ideas were, I, mean, we, we wanted to make sure, actually the first question I always ask, Um, when deciding to build a robot from my experience is, do you really need a robot? Right? Because if the answer is that you can solve this problem without a robot, you should solve the problem without a robot.
It's, it's never the right answer to build a robot if you don't really need a robot because it's just so expensive. To develop and build and bring to market any complex piece of hardware, like a robotic system. And so if there's a better solution out there, the complex solution, which is going to be more expensive and more, you know, complicated is not going to win.
Right? So, , the first question that Phil and I asked ourselves was, do we really need to build a robot? And then once we realized that, yeah, you know, there's, there's no other way to get the accuracy that our customers need other than building a robot. We were committed. and so how did we get from there to where we are?
Well, we actually went through a series of design processes with, with an industrial designer who would actually, Walk [00:17:00] us through different questions like, what is Dusty's persona, right? What, what does Dusty do in his or her free time? What is Dusty value? What do they care about?
Evan Troxel: I want to know what Dusty does in its free time as well.
Tessa Lau: dusty reads like DIY magazines and, you know, does like Homewood working on the side, right? You know, that, that kind of hobbyist tinkerer.
Evan Troxel: Watches this old house.
Tessa Lau: exactly, exactly. That's, that's the dusty persona, Right. And Dusty also drives a Tesla because Dusty loves new technology, right? They're, they're on the edge, the cutting edge of new tech and what it can do for you.
, so, you know, that combination of attributes is what created our brand and that, and that helped us design the, the shell and, and the shape and the function and the form that would become our, our current product.
Evan Troxel: Now is did the name come before that or did the name come after?
Tessa Lau: The name, there's a story behind the name. The name came first actually. So back in the day when we were thinking we [00:18:00] were going to build a robotic vacuum cleaner and it was going to sweep up all the dust and dirt on the job site, we actually got an offer from an investor to invest in our company. And we didn't have a company.
And so we needed to create a company,
Evan Troxel: Need a company real quick.
Tessa Lau: Yep. and. we needed a name for that company so that we could actually take this investment. And so we brainstormed a number of ideas and dusty. , came up as one of the possibilities and I really liked it. , and partially it's because of, of my experience with my previous company.
, no one can spell the name Savioke or pronounce it correctly or remember it And so I wanted something that was memorable and easy to pronounce, easy to spell, and that people would just associate with us. so, dusty is not only that, but it's also cute and quirky and has a personality. And those were all things that I wanted.
So that's how we became dusty.
Evan Troxel: It does fit the persona and it, and it also is kind of androgynous in that way. Right? It's just like, who, who's dusty, right? Like that, that to [00:19:00] me is what's kind of cool about that name. Anyway, you were gonna tell us a second story
Tessa Lau: Yeah. as part of the design exercise, one of the things that our designers walked us through was, , was like a positioning exercise. Like, is dusty, or is this product more like a tank or a car, word. is destiny more like a robot vacuum or is it more like, uh, like a car toy, you know, like a, a remote controlled car? Right? And so of all of these things that are kind of the same shape and form factor, like what is it most like, and I said, well, you know, it's not like any of those, it's like a power tool, right?
I want this to be something that people pick up and use. And, and people love their power tools. They give them names, they take care of them, right? And so that's what I wanted people to feel when they're using our product, and so that's how we ended up with the shape, the coloring, the affordances around the tool that we have today.
Evan Troxel: That's cool. I, I was just telling somebody I have a Makita drill driver and it is at least 25 years old and it just [00:20:00] won't die. And I rely on that. Thing so much. Right? And it's the kind of tool that I am not gonna go replace that tool. Like that's the least sustainable thing that I could do.
And when I pick it up, I know exactly how to operate. Every little switch and dial that's on it and it, and it's just like this extension of me. And so, I could see how this could become that for an operation who's out there doing construction where it's just like, send out Dusty. how cool is it to be the person who gets to lay out the plan that Dusty's gonna draw, and then to actually go watch Dusty draw it.
Like I think that all of that kind of plays into this storytelling of like, it's part of the team. It's not just a tool, right? It actually becomes part of the team. So, cool,
Tessa Lau: Exactly, We have people who are so proud that they get to operate dusty on their job sites, Right.
It's a point of pride to them that they are the layout specialist and this is their job. And they can do such a great job with it. They can produce beautiful things, [00:21:00] and that is something that you couldn't get any other way.
Evan Troxel: So how does Dusty actually work with what, what you're willing to share? I have no idea how much IP is behind that, but it's, obvious that it draws lines, but like what, how does that work in reality?
Tessa Lau: So we have, , designed dusty to make it as much of a drop-in replacement as we can for existing workflows, right? So, , in a typical workflow, you run through a BIM coordination process. You have a coordinated model, , and then that coordinated model today gets handed off to the different trades who then do their layout and installation based on those.
The, the shop drawings that come out of that model. So what we do is we take that same coordinated model and uh we prepare it for print. And that process is pretty straightforward if you have a team that uses Revit already, it's just a, a work, a very simple workflow, and Revit to prepare the line work. I would put, , what we call a dusty file.
And that dusty file is what goes into the robot and gets printed. [00:22:00] If it's just a single trade, for example, just drywall, , we work with them to take that, , take the walls that were modeled in Revit, turn that into essentially a shop drawing, a robot ready shop drawing, and bring that out into the robot.
If we're working with a gc, we'll typically work with all the different trades, , information. Prepare that all for printing in a single file and then do what we call a multi trade layout where all of those trades information get printed on the floor at the same time. That shaves weeks off the schedule because, , instead of each trade coming in and doing their own layout, we're just doing the same thing with the robot 10 times faster than people in a single pass over the floor.
Evan Troxel: Wow. I have many questions now based on that but , the idea of it when you, said drop in like a tool that just kind of fits right in. I was just thinking like a toner cartridge. I thought you were gonna go how you actually refilled dusty because it is kind of like this mobile printer. Right. , so interesting, interesting idea, of the way that you thought about that. And so [00:23:00] I, now I'm really interested in like the different trades that can use Dusty, because I just assume as somebody who's. Designed architecture and who's done remodeling projects that it's like a framing layout tool, but what else does Dusty
Tessa Lau: Mm-hmm. Yeah, so we're actually like most of our projects these days are what we call multi trade, where all of the different interior trades have bought into using Dusty. And so we're not just printing the walls, we're also printing the stuff that goes inside the walls and the stuff that goes into the ceiling.
So, Most commonly, we work with mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire. Those are the plus drywall, right? Those are the, all the, the major interior trades. And what we print for them is everything that you install in the interior of the building. So imagine it's a hospital build out, you have all of these, , the, the HVAC ducts, the, the water sewer, the electrical.
The fire sprinklers that all get installed in the ceiling overhead, right? Those all will typically get laid out on the floor first and then installed overhead. and [00:24:00] so Dusty will come through and and print a lot of the details for all of those fixtures that are going to get installed, and that eliminates all the conflicts between the different trades. because you can see, at a glance whether there's going to be a conflict well before anyone starts building, We just had a job, a hospital job in, in Arkansas, I think last week, where they told us that thanks to Dusty. They found a conflict where a hangar rod would've intersected a pipe and the two would've rubbed together if they'd built it to spec. Right. And because Dusty had printed everything on the ground, they could just walk the floor. See, that was going to, to create a conflict and fix it there before anyone had started installing.
Evan Troxel: I've never once considered clash detection to be something that could possibly happen with printed lines on the floor. Like, that's, that's pretty crazy. So, let's shift gears and talk about kind of the adoption side of this and who's excited about it and why. I, I would imagine that different groups are excited about it for different reasons, but.
Tessa Lau: Mm-hmm.
Evan Troxel: It seems like you [00:25:00] went for construction side first and then it spread from there. so can you tell us how that worked and, and why you started there? It does seem like the right tool for that kind of a, job, but I, I also know that there's architects, like I've had Jason Gardner from Populace on the show before and he talked about printing layouts on. On floors for people to kind of experience it in some way before it was built, even though it was partway under construction already. So people got to understand the space under the super structure, for instance, and that was really helpful conveying ideas And getting buy-in even during the construction process from the designers point of view.
Tessa Lau: Yeah. there's a lot of different players in the AEC industry, right? Architects, , there's GCs, there's trade partners, all the different trade partners. There's owners, there's insurance, right? There's construction management, engineering firms, right? And all of those.
Players, benefit from using Dusty, but it's a slightly different benefit that they get because they have a different stake in the ground. [00:26:00] So, the reason we started with, we actually started with drywall. , the reason why, and, and so our first couple customers were all drywall customers.
, the reason why is because drywall layout is about 70% of the layout on the interior of the building. And so the bulk of it. Is drywall. And that's, that's a natural place to start. Everyone assumes like you did that, this robot's going to print the walls. And so that's how we got our start. once we demonstrated that it would work with these early drywall customers, then GC started getting really interested because they were, they were saying, well, you know, that's, that's, you can, you can print more than just walls, right?
Yeah, of course. So I wanna use that to do all of my trades. , and the reason why is because it's an extension of their VDC team. You know, they're already investing in BIM coordination, so why not take that model, decrease their risk, and bring it out into the job site, right? Just eliminate all of these possible places where the project can go sideways because someone was using the wrong control or someone wasn't coordinated, or, you know, someone's using the wrong version [00:27:00] and just eliminate all those possible sources of error.
So that covers the, you know, the, the trade partners and the jc We've also now started working with some architects and, , Perkins and Will is, is one of those, they actually have a, a project that they did up in Napa with us where, , we were printing all of their architectural shop drawings on the floor.
And the benefit for the architects is that they don't have to spend as much time dimensioning. Because robots don't need dimensions. And also there's a lot fewer RFIs when you have dusty in the mix because if you can do a lot more of that, , conflict detection and resolution in a single walkthrough of the floor, instead of those RFIs trickling in over weeks, as each trade gets around to doing their layout and seeing what works relative to the others, you can do it all at once and just resolve all of those issues in one fell swoop.
Evan Troxel: the issue that I've seen in the past with. We can do a lot less dimensions, and I'll put [00:28:00] that in my famous podcasting air quotes is the the firm that I was working with, they had a team who produced a model and had a note on the drawings that said, C model for measurements, right? Because they knew that was gonna be handed over and the risk management department disallowed it because it doesn't fit the standard of care, which is typical of other architecture firms. And so they were concerned risk aversion, right? That. yeah. Should call it the risk aversion department, right? But it was like, well, every other architecture firm puts dimensions on the drawing.
And so this is kind of, that's just a small piece of the puzzle of how we actually get to model based digital delivery for projects. so I, I, I love that story because it shows that it is happening in other places. And so this audience that's hearing this right now should turn a light bulb on in their minds to say,
Wait, what? Somebody else is doing it. Perkins and Will is doing it. Maybe we can do it too, because that's what it kind of takes, it kind of takes, it is a, a trickle down effect.
But [00:29:00] there are many firms out there for so many reasons why this adoption or this evolution isn't happening is because of the old ways or, or the standard ways.
And so new technologies come along. And make it possible to actually achieve the things that they've been dreaming about, right? Where it's like, well, what they really thought was the contractor's gonna still get out there with their tape measure, But now there's this whole new thing that just completely leapfrogs that, and I.
We spit the, the dusty file out of Revit and the robot goes and prints those and there is, there is no more measuring. Right? And so I think that that's, it's absolutely fascinating. Like what a tool like this can unlock for a team, for instance. So very cool story to hear.
Tessa Lau: from what I'm seeing, what this is going to do is force architects to take more responsibility for the build. And, and I think what's happened over time is that, architects haven't wanted to, to take on that responsibility. Right? You know, they, they hand it off to the gc, the GC hands it [00:30:00] off to the, the subcontractors who say, you know, you are responsible for ensuring that this is constructable, right? And that constructability piece is key. , and right now that gets delegated down to the bottom level. And what we're seeing with, with digital delivery and automated layout is that architects have a, have a say in that too. And I think the best architects are going to realize that we're reverting in some, in some sense to that master builder archetype. Right. Where the architects have a lot of say in the constructability of the buildings that we're building Right. now.
Evan Troxel: Well, and it's like the reverse commoditization of architectural services because everybody has, well, every, in air quotes, again, everybody has raced to this. We all do the exactly the same thing and there's no differentiation. And now tools are actually enabling differentiation. Before everybody used the exact same tools in technologies. They all had the T-Square, they all had the drafting table. They all had cad. They all had bim. Have they all have bim?
What else is there that really separates [00:31:00] the wheat from the chaff here and how can you promote yourself as whatever it is? It could be technologically advanced, it could be thought leadership.
It could be so many different things, but it's like. There's an actual tool that can set you apart here. It doesn't mean it'll set you apart forever, right. But if you are there early, it does set you apart and you will build on that, and it will lead to creating efficiencies on the BIM side because you're now using a new tool set on the ground during construction, and it does tend to ripple out from there.
It's really kind of interesting
Overall, how did you. Take on AEC so quickly. I mean, if you came from a completely different background, you've had a crash course, you know all the terminology, you know, you're talking about all this stuff. Like what, just this, a little tangent here, but, but what, what was that like for you?
Tessa Lau: well, I love learning languages and in a lot of ways this is like learning another language, right? It's like, being dropped into a foreign country [00:32:00] without speaking a word of the local language and. Having to sink or swim, and I get energized by that. And so I love talking to people from the industry and just picking up like how do they talk about things?
What do they care about? What, what words do they use? And so that, that's enabled me to like quickly come up to speed on the industry because I, I, I'm fascinated by it and learning. And so I really enjoy that process. So
Evan Troxel: assume you. You'd have to be very embedded, like on the job sites, in the offices, like just immersed. It would have to be kind of an immersive experience for you to, to get all that, because reading it online, it's like, what? What does that mean? What? Yeah. Can't imagine,
Tessa Lau: No, you can't learn construction by reading YouTube or, or reading. Reading google.
Evan Troxel: Right. So on the contractor side, you've mentioned it a few times now, drywall layout. What does that actually mean? Like how does Dusty help make that happen? Because are you actually marking like the end points of the panels or what is it Because. What I want [00:33:00] everyone to think about is like, this is like a Roomba, a bigger version.
It has bigger wheels so it can get over, you know, I would assume small, variations in the horizontal plane, right? So construction sites not the cleanest site, but not only that, you do have transitions between, you know, slight, slight different things. And so there's this thing rolling around the site and it's, it's laying out what does that mean to lay out for a, like a drywall sub.
Tessa Lau: our bread and butter is printing lines. Yes. And so if you imagine driving along the floor and, , and a line is following behind it, right? So it it's basically an inkjet printer, right? So what we've built is a, it's a little two foot by one foot by one foot, like boxy shape with wheels and it's got eyes on the front, so it's super cute. And as it's driving, , it's spraying ink down on the ground just like an inkjet printer would on your desk at home. , and those lines are drawing the, the shape [00:34:00] and, uh, location of all the walls that you're going to be installing. So this is if we're doing drywall layout, but it goes beyond just what you would normally snap.
With chalk lines, because we can do dashed lines, we can do dotted lines, we can do, lines with text in them. And so, , We can do a lot of things that enhance the print that you'd see on the floor. So instead of just seeing the bare bones information, you need to frame and rock your walls. You have the location of the iron lines, the location of your bottom track, which is where you're going to start laying down your, your framing.
You have the, you have dashed lines that indicate where, how many layers of drywall. Get attached to your walls. So whether it's one hour rated, two hour rated drywall, or whether it's acoustical wall, right? All of those things can be marked down with different line styles.
We can also describe the lines, and so one of the inventions we made early on was printing soffits with a unique line style.
And so there's [00:35:00] a solid line with the word soffit embedded in it every 12 inches, so you know exactly what you're looking at when you're walking that floor. , we print door openings. We print the, the rough opening dimensions of where you need to frame out your doors. , we can print wall tags. So this is an M zero one wall.
This is an a zero one wall, so if you know what your wall types are, all you have to do is look at the floor and you know exactly what you need to install in that wall. And so all that information, , we learned from doing lots and lots of jobs with drywallers, right? This is what they wanna see on the floor.
And so we've created those capabilities for them to be able to bring that information out into the field.
Evan Troxel: it seems so obvious now, after it's done. You've done all the hard work. You've made this, I would, I would assume, would become like an indispensable tool. It's just like, why hasn't it been like this for longer? Because we've had robots for quite a while, right? has machines that do things. , and I, the way that I've always thought about the way Dusty works, cuz I have kids, is. The soccer field, like painting the chalk lines on the soccer field or on the baseball diamond. You know, you, somebody's pushing the little cart. It's [00:36:00] spitting out The chalk and that's what this is. Without the person and at much
higher fidelity. how do you coordinate the drawings, like the information layer to the physical site and to get the precision that you're after? How do those two things, index with each other?
Tessa Lau: so we actually build off of, , technology that the construction industry is already familiar with. So everyone has probably heard of a total station, right? That's what surveyors use to mark out points at known locations. they operate off of what's called control points, which are points located around the perimeter of the building that are positioned at very precise locations.
and those points are marked both on the digital plan. As well as in the field. Right? And so the way our system works is it uses a laser tracker, which is the bicker brother of a total station, and you scan in those control points, you know where they are in the digital file, you know where they are in the field, that lets you align the two on top of each other. And so everything you print is accurate relative to that control.
Evan Troxel: Okay. and what can Dusty roll over? I, I would [00:37:00] assume, you know, I mentioned it earlier, there's never like a perfectly clean construction site, right?
So what, what kinds of obstacles is there? Obstacle avoidance? Does it, I mean, it doesn't just shut down. I would assume the print when, if there's something in the way, maybe it goes around it, but talk through what, what that's like.
Because no matter what, somebody's gonna expect to see lines On the slab when they come back. Right. Or after the task is done. And so I, I assume things get in the way, may, maybe it's like curling and there's somebody right in front of dusty running feverishly sweeping stuff out of the way. But you get, paint a picture of what that's actually like.
Tessa Lau: I have been that person on, on job sites, , with the broom, right? , no. So we, we designed the system actually to work really well around obstacles because, you know, the reality is that, for a lot of types of building, , all the layout happens after you've ready, , embedded. You know, a lot of stub ups in, in the concrete, right? And you need to lay out the walls, which are gonna go Right. around those, those Pipes that already exist and are sticking up out of the floor. [00:38:00]
Evan Troxel: Pipes were there first, right there before the slab
Tessa Lau: Pipes get there first. Exactly. so our system actually is, is capable of printing right up to those points, , which is one of the differentiators of our system compared to anything else.
And, and we did that because we, you know, our experience with our early customer base was, that they needed that completeness of layout to have a very clear picture of exactly where that wall is going to land. Surrounding those pipes. , and so typically the, what our system does is , it, , prints out of, , print heads that are located at the two front corners of the robot, , left and right.
And so we can get really, really close and just like skirt the edge of that pipe or that column or that obstacle and print right up next to it and just kind of kiss the edge of it and get your really clean line.
Evan Troxel: Nice. it's better than my robot vacuum, which cannot get into the, the corners and the edges. I'm just like looking down right now.
But they have gotten a lot better. , I actually just saw, I don't know if you saw this, , [00:39:00] Dyson just announced a robot vacuum. And it has an arm on it that extends out. I don't, I, I assume that that's like getting corners and stuff, so that's kind of interesting that they're entering that space.
Brian Ringley has been on the show and he's been talking about Spot, you know, from Boston Dynamics, and it's a Quadriped robot and it is also built for, I mean, at least his division of it is, is on construction.
How it, how it's involved in construction. And the idea there is it can walk over all kinds of things and it can go upstairs and downstairs. There's stairs on construction sites, it turns out, right. So, , When it comes to just stuff that gets in the way how do you handle that kind of thing? Do you just roll right over it and keep on going and you're working with this laser guidance system to keep the lines going exactly where they're supposed to be and, and how big of a, how big of a piece of junk can this thing roll over?
Tessa Lau: , I mean, we've, we've pretty much dealt with anything on a construction site by this point. If it's a screw, we'll just roll right over?
it and keep going. if it's too big [00:40:00] to roll over, then we'll either push it aside that the front of the robot has a. Flap, kinda like a cow catcher that, you know, like push things aside as it's going on a, on a train or if it's, you know, so big that we can't push it like a pallet of materials or a porta potty. Right. Then we'll just bump into it and keep going.
Evan Troxel: That would be pretty cool to see though. I mean, I pushing the, the porta potty out of the way so it can draw its lines So what still interests you in this, in this field? I mean, is it really just about getting more exposure to more people to really bridge this efficiency gap? Or do you have your site set on other things that either dusty or other kinds of robots could, could do on the construction site?
Tessa Lau: Well, let me tell you about one thing I'm really excited about right now, which is, , we've just started printing QR code. On the floor, which is something that no one's ever really done before. And I see so much potential in this. So what a QR code is going to let you do is, is link up particular [00:41:00] location in the physical world with a resource in the digital world.
And that linkage can change over time. So imagine you're walking the floor, right? Dusty had just come through and do it, done. Its layout. It's just a big concrete slab, right? Nothing's been built yet. And you pull out your phone, you scan that QR code that you see on the floor and it tells you, oh, you're in room 4 0 3, here's the 3D model.
You know, here's a Revit walkthrough, you know, fly through that you can do to see what's going to be built here. and then imagine you are now the electrician. And you come and you scan that QR code. It says, here are the 10 fixtures that get installed in this room. Right? Here's the work instructions right here.
How do you install each one of them? , this is, you know what you're supposed to do in this room. , now you're the gc. Okay.
You get a punch list. Here are all the things that have to get fixed in this room, right? And so, depending on who you are and when you are walking this site and scanning this site, we can bring the Right information to your fingertips. And we can do [00:42:00] that because we know exactly where you are and who you are. If you, you know, log into our system and provide that information to you. And that is going to really bridge this gap cuz there's so much information in the digital world, right? In Procore, in, in your BIM 360, in your Revit models, right?
All of that information, you can't use it in the field cause. It's not visible to you, but if we can make that visible to you, we can bring that out to you and link those two together cuz we know exactly where you are and we can give you that custom information that's going to really make construction a lot more efficient.
Evan Troxel: I love that idea. that is so cool. And yeah, like you said, it depends on who you are and when in the sequence that you're there. For somebody, it could be a 3D experience for somebody, it could be a list of information. Right. And, and equally useful. It just depends what you're looking for. I could see that being being huge for.
Tessa Lau: exactly.
Evan Troxel: just breaking down these barriers of having to go to the job trailer to get the information [00:43:00] that you forgot to bring with you when you were gonna go run through these several different rooms or what's actually supposed to be here. You don't have to go back and find the plan and pull it up and go through the sheets and it it, that sounds really incredible.
So with that kind of a thing, I mean, what kinds of efficiencies are you guys seeing? Give us kind of an idea of I hate to say like, full adoption of something like this could be because I, who knows, like that, that just seems like a, a giant, task to even figure out. But what kinds of, efficiencies have you been seeing gained on the construction site with, with tools like
Tessa Lau: Mm-hmm. , we're seeing really significant schedule compression. we just completed a project with Trube, their original GC here in California. And, , they're building a, complex, , lab space. And they had a very tight timeline that they had to turn this over to the owner, and so they turned to Dusty and we helped them through a full multi trade layout with all the different trades participating.
And what they found was they were saving,[00:44:00] , weeks off of the construction schedule for each floor. And that's because instead of, you know, tr traditionally you clear the floor for a long period of time. First the drywall crew comes in and does their layout, then mechanical, then electrical, then plumbing, and then fire.
And that could take weeks. and you can't put anything on the floor because each of these crews needs the floor clear to do their layout. So instead you load all the, all the files into a robot, have the robot print it. And because the robot's doing all the trades layout, In a single pass over the floor, as soon as the robot has completed a portion of the floor, You can start installing in that portion, right? Like in five minutes after the robot started printing, you don't have to wait for it to finish. It's taking a pass west to east over that floor, and as soon as it finishes an area that those crews can come in to start building, and that just gives you huge schedule gains.
Evan Troxel: That's incredible. And I would imagine that that, you know, going back to that idea of this being an extension of the VDC team, that changes the way they [00:45:00] think about sequencing
Tessa Lau: Yes, yes, yes. So we are starting to see GCs build us into the schedule,
into the construction schedule now, Right, So instead of holding, reserving all of that time for the trades to do their work, they're compressing down this layout portion to a much smaller amount of time because they know it'll help them finish, turn over that project a lot faster.
Evan Troxel: How durable is the ink on the concrete?
Tessa Lau: We have a number of different types of ink and so it depends on, on what you want to have happen. our most durable ink lasts for over six months. , in fact, I think I've seen it last up to 12 months in full weather conditions. since construction typically takes a couple months, right? That's, that's generally our recommendation for choice. But, , if you want the ink to disappear faster, then we have options for that as well.
Evan Troxel: Interesting. What have I not asked you about that you are, are dying to tell the audience about or, you know, I'm, I'm new to all this with, the robotics and, and so I'm, interested to find out if there's anything that, our [00:46:00] conversation hasn't led to, that you would normally think is of interest.
Tessa Lau: so one of the questions I often get asked is, Aren't unions going to object to this because it's taking away jobs? And the answer is, well, they're not, in fact, they're embracing it. And so we're actually working with two of the biggest unions in NorCal right now, and they are teaching dusty training classes for us.
Evan Troxel: Nice.
Tessa Lau: we've ta, we've trained their trainers and now they're on their own running, classes, levels one, two, and three. that will eventually produce dusty certified operators. Uh, that's for drywall
Evan Troxel: that's a new career right there. I mean,
Tessa Lau: it's a new career right there. It's, it's job security, right? If, if you are the dusty operator for your company, you know, I imagine that's, uh, that's a pretty good position to be in.
Evan Troxel: I would assume too, that this kind of thing you, you brought up unions and I immediately think of trade shows, right? I think about the, the National Conference on architecture that I'm gonna go to next month, and that's [00:47:00] in a giant convention center and every week there's a new show and they all have a different floor plan. And I could imagine something like this just being a huge deal for that because it's, it's all union labor. That's why the connection was there. But just the, the repetitive tear down build, tear down build and, and having to, draw a new layout every single week. It's a, think about Vegas, just gotta be incredible, the amount of throughput that they push through there. So, ha, have you broken into that scene?
Tessa Lau: I think our sales team has actually talked to some of the players in that scene, and so it's definitely a an adjacent use case
Evan Troxel: Yeah, for sure. Wow. Well that, that is all very cool and I'm, I'm glad to hear that it's being kind of, Accepted on so many different levels with different pieces of the puzzle in the building industry. So it seems like there's a a lot of potential here, and I I know you're doing it a lot on the commercial side. Is it [00:48:00] happening very much on the residential side?
Tessa Lau: Where we're seeing adoption on the residential side? is with high and tone build. For, you know, high net worth individuals. And so these are like 5,000 and up square foot homes that just, they need to be perfect. Yeah. that precision. Yeah. You can't get that any other way. And so Dusty's being used a fair bit on that type of job.
Evan Troxel: Well, Tessa, this has been fascinating conversation. I know your time is so valuable. Thank you so much for finding time to have this conversation with me, and I'll put links to everything that Dusty Robotics and Tessa are doing in the show notes. And thank you again. appreciate you.
Tessa Lau: Thank you Evan. Thanks for the opportunity. It's been great having this conversation.