Jonathan Waldman – SAM

A true story of innovation, centered on a scrappy team of engineers – far from the Silicon Valley limelight – and their quest to achieve a surprisingly difficult technological feat: building a robot that can lay bricks.

Humans have landed men on the moon, programmed cars to drive themselves, and put the knowledge of our entire civilization in your back pocket. But no one – from MIT nerds to Army Corps engineers – has ever built a robot that can lay bricks as well as a mason. Unlike the controlled conditions of a factory line, where robots are now ubiquitous, no two construction sites are alike, and a days work involves countless variables – bricks that range in size and quality, temperamental mortar mixes, uneven terrain, fickle weather, and moody foremen.

Twenty-five years ago, on a challenging construction job in Syracuse, architect Nate Podkaminer had a vision of a future full of efficient, automated machines that freed men from the repetitive, toilsome burden of laying bricks. (Bricklayers lift the equivalent of a Ford truck every few days.) Offhandedly, he mentioned the idea to his daughters boyfriend, and after some inspired scheming, the architect and engineer – soon to be in-laws – cofounded a humble startup called Construction Robotics. Working out of a small trailer, they recruited a boldly unconventional team of engineers to build the Semi-Automated Mason: SAM. In classic American tradition, a small, unlikely, and eccentric family-run startup sought to reimagine the behemoth $10 billion construction industry – the second biggest industry in America – in bootstrap fashion.

In the tradition of Tracy Kidders The Soul of a New Machine, SAM unfolds as an engineering drama, full of trials and setbacks, heated showdowns between meticulous scientists and brash bricklayers (and their even more opinionated union), and hard-earned milestone achievements. Jonathan Waldman, acclaimed author of Rust, brings listeners inside the world of the renegade company revolutionizing the most traditional trade.

Author: Jonathan Waldman
Narrator: Corey Brill
Duration: 9 hours 10 minutes
Released: 20 Jul 2001
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Language: English

User Review:

scorer intermediate-range

This is the story of a specific group of what one might call “maverick” engineers who set out to build a robotic system for brick and block laying, and they eventually succeed using bootstrapped funding. Their story is complemented by all kinds of historical accounts related to many aspects of architecture and construction interjected throughout.

It’s exactly this type of audiobook that keeps me coming back for more, despite Audible’s “very imperfect” recommendation engine.