An Oakland-based startup called Urban Machine wants to revolutionize the construction industry by solving two of its most pressing challenges: waste and labor shortages. Urban Machine develops the latest technology with a portable robotic post removal line that can automatically remove metal parts such as rivets, nails and screws from wood collected from construction and demolition sites.
Robot Marvel by Urban Machine
The robotic unloading line created by Urban Machine is no small feat. Each plane weighs 45,000 pounds (about 22 tons) and spans 80 feet. Despite its size, the machine is portable and can be loaded onto a truck for transport to construction and demolition sites. The company plans to process at least 16,000 board feet of wood per day, which is equivalent to the production of commercial primary wood processing.
A new approach to wood recycling
Urban Machine stands out from other woodworking companies that typically focus on small-scale, high-quality scrap. Instead, the company uses advanced computer vision to detect metal parts in wood, and AI-powered algorithms determine the type of fastener present. A robot arm equipped with manipulators then removes the metal parts. This innovative process allows Urban Machine to recover and recycle the majority of wood for use in commercial production projects such as pre-processing. Expansion plans and future goals
Currently operating in the Bay Area with a team of about a dozen employees, Urban Machine has ambitious plans to roll out a dozen machines in six cities by 2024. Each machine requires a crew of five or six people to operate, and the company estimates that national demand at 6,000 machines account for about half of all wasted wood. Ultimately, Urban Machine plans to sell or lease the machines with the software layer and keep the leased equipment. A promising economic outlook
According to PitchBook, Urban Machine successfully raised $7.2 million in a seed round with notable investors including GV, Lowercarbon Capital, Catapult Ventures, Klein Venture Partners and Union Labs Ventures. The company is led by seasoned industry professionals, including CEO Eric Law, who has more than two decades of construction and technology experience. Responding to industry challenges
The construction industry is struggling with a half a million worker shortage, and according to the Financial Times, vacancies will increase by 17 percent in 2022. This shortage affects 80 percent of all construction companies in the United States. In addition, in 2018, the amount of construction and demolition waste generated by buildings, roads and bridges increased to about 600 million tons, which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is more than double the amount of general household waste. With the recycled wood market projected to grow 4.6% annually and exceed $70 billion by 2028, according to a Grand View Research report, Urban Machine’s innovative solution offers a promising opportunity to address both labor shortages and waste reduction in the construction industry.