"Sam"

“SAM” is the story of a “scrappy little startup” company bent on developing a machine to build brick walls. Engineer Scott Peters and construction manager Nate Posikaminer established “Construction Robotics” in Rochester, New York in 2007 and began trials for an innovative bricklaying machine in 2013.

Jonathan Waldman delivers a detailed chronicle of the endless frustrations and arduous struggles to develop SAM, a “semi--automated mason,” designed to “revolutionize construction.”

“Getting an inanimate machine to do what only hands and brains could was apparently some kind of universal geek fantasy,” Waldman writes. “And while it sounded like child’s play, it was phenomenally difficult. To put it in context: The first machine to successfully pick up small wooden blocks did so only eight years before humans landed on the moon.”

Waldman constructs a lively narrative about a subject as down-to-earth as bricklaying. He notes the construction business is “the second biggest industry in America” and one highly resistant to innovation.

Waldman’s engaging story traces the escapades of the building team from various trial sites to the “World of Concrete” tradeshow in Las Vegas. The author informs the reader that “$10 billion worth of bricks are installed annually in the United States.” and that “Of all the surface area on the exteriors of all the nonresidential buildings in the country, a quarter is covered in brick.” There are also side chapters on the history of mortar and mason unions in the United States.

Waldman has the unique ability to sum up characters in a few words. For example, he describes one member of the team as a conservative Republican, who “listened to classic rock and didn’t recycle;” while the other was a liberal Democrat who “listened to podcasts and did.”

This book is a fascinating biography of a team of engineers and their quest to build a piece of equipment that can lay bricks. He describes a world that surrounds all of us, but mostly eludes our notice. The account of this start-up should find an audience among entrepreneurs and wannabes of all interests.