To an outsider, bricklaying might seem like the task on a construction site most ready for automated labor. After all, even toddlers can build huge block walls with ease. But the reality is different, and the combination of delicate skills, brawn and endurance that leads to a properly-built brick wall has eluded machine-masons for decades. Waldman introduces us to SAM - Semi-Automated Mason - and his driven but perpetually-frustrated development crew as they strive for the goal of a machine that can lay brick as fast and evenly as any apprentice mason.
The result is a worthy addition to the genre of "new tech meets old craft," and blends modern engineering headaches and triumphs with the need to work amid the grit and weather on real construction sites - and with proud and suspicious union masons objecting to every change that slows them down (or, worse, might replace them). Waldman even casts a respectful eye at the long history of modern masonry and its original guru, Frank B. Gilbreth, who developed speed and efficiency techniques for bricklayers at the dawn of the 20th century, turning a slow process into one that could raise buildings in weeks.
Waldman takes us through the parallel, a century later, with a machine that at first can barely tell one end of a brick from another to one that can lay a thousand bricks a day and even style a monogram in a brick wall, all the while sulking, pooping and driving both its developers and its co-workers crazy.
Jonny has delved deep into an intriguing entrepreneurial story that includes robots, bricks, construction, and all of the ups and downs of trying to get a business off the ground. Unlike many of today's 'just raise a ton of money and then good things will happen' stories, this is an awesome tale of grit, endurance, and relentless optimism against almost all odds. When you toss in the history and evolution of a bricklayer, you get a fascinating story. Read it—you'll love it like I did."
This is nice mixture of human-interest points about the developers and the technical and marketing obstacles they had to overcome. It makes it clear how difficult the fine-tuning of a robot is, even after the basic design is settled. Even though the entrepreneurs disdained book learning, and some really good engineers obviously were involved, I wonder if a little more book learning and theory might have made things go better.