The IAAC's Minibuilder 'Grip' robot adds vertical support to a 3D-printed structure.
Your next home could be a 3D-printed hut.
Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Spain, have created an ingenious three-step process, called Minibuilders, for 3D-printing a simple home that looks less like the product of construction, and more like something that grew straight out of nature.
In a six-month-long project led by robotics researchers and inventors Sasa Jokic and Petr Novikov together with researchers Shihui Jin, Stuart Maggs, Dori Sadan and Cristina Nan, the IAAC team employed three robots to build a 3D structure. The "Foundation" robot, the first and largest robot, uses a line sensor to follow a preset pattern on the ground to trace out, and build up, the home’s foundation. It's equipped with a 3D material extruder, which continuously applies an approximately 1-inch deep by 1-to-2-inch wide coating of quick-hardening material.
The second robot, called "Grip," features the same 3D-printing capabilities, but is designed to hold onto the foundation wall, and build it up. Its printing nozzle can also be programmed to move from side to side, and curve the walls in as it prints them, allowing the robot to make ceilings and dwelling roofs.
The third robot features a vacuum, and can tightly hug the irregular walls. It's used to add vertical lines that help strengthen the structure.
A key innovation is that none these robots are particularly large. Previous attempts at automated home-building usually required machines or robots that are larger than the walls and buildings they're constructing. By breaking down the process into a number of smaller parts, the IAAC team was able to use robots that are small enough to be carried by one or two people.
Although the material the robots use to 3D-print the homes looks like concrete, it's actually a mixture of marble power and Axson Easymax, a two-component thermosetting polymer. A built-in chemical reaction actually cures the mixture as it exits the extruder, which means it hardens almost as soon as it's laid down. As a result, the Grip robot can hold on to recently extruded walls without damaging them, or losing its grip.
The IAAC's demonstration video, above, shows the robots building a very simple structure that resembles a giant vase; it doesn't have windows or any kind of wall structure on the inside. Eventually, though, similar robots may be able to build complex structures.
The Minibuilders team told Mashable that the structure took roughly 12 hours to print, if you subtract the time it took to refill the extruder.
IAAC researchers don’t expect 3D printing to replicate or replace existing home-building technologies. Instead, they told Mashable, it should inspire new ones, and perhaps invent a whole new class of home dwellings. The Minibuilders method “will allow for higher customization and more irregular forms than before. So non-linear shapes will be something more common in the future,” according to the IAAC. 3D printing may also shape the construction materials we use in the future, which could have a positive impact on sustainability.
As for when you can expect to move into your first 3D-printed home, it could be a while. "[The] time frame is hard to tell, probably five to 10 years, but we'll try to push this research as fast as possible," the IAAC said.