Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Robots on Jobsites? Not So Far Fetched

MIT research scientists insist that the future of home building lies in technology which includes smart machines that can perform construction functions. A professor at USC has invented a fabrication process that operates on the principles of 3D printing. Software able to read blueprints guides a large mechanical arm suspended from a mobile scaffold. The arm extrudes liquefied concrete in patterns that form exterior and interior walls into any shape and height. Electrical, plumbing, flooring, and other finish work can be installed during the process, which operates nonstop until the structure is completed.

In the not so distant future, more and more activities will be operated by software. Instead of Teamsters, there will be robotic trucks. Where there had once been miners, there will be mining robots. Instead of factories, there will be 3D printers in your home.

But, robots on jobsites?

"Yes," says Dr. Khoshnevis, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California, who is betting on home building becoming part of that continuum.

Since 2002, he has been perfecting "Contour Crafting,” a fabrication process that operates on the principles of 3D printing.

Details like cutting window and door openings still are being refined. Khoshnevis has been soliciting investment capital for a startup company to sell the technology. He sees Contour Crafting as being suited for constructing affordable housing in areas where supply is short or where houses have been destroyed by natural disasters. He predicts the technology would reduce jobsite injuries, leave a smaller carbon footprint, and be cost-competitive with stick-built or modular construction after equipment and cycle times are amortized.

His invention might have residual benefits, too. Khoshnevis is working with NASA on a robotic system that could build structures on the moon and Mars using indigenous raw materials such as volcanic sand, which is common on the moon. That’s gotten the state of Hawaii—where volcanic sand abounds—interested in the process for producing cement.

How many years away do you think this technology is to being on jobsites?

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