Researchers at MIT have recently expanded the list of applications of 3D printing by developing a robotic system, called a Digital Construction Platform (or DCP), capable of “printing” the basic structure of an entire building.
The new system allows for less expensive, significantly faster and fully customisable building process that could eventually lead to entirely novel structures that are not feasible given traditional building methods.
The system, detailed in a paper published in the journal Science Robotics, is comprised of a tracked vehicle that carries a large, industrial robotic arm, which has a smaller, precision-motion robotic arm at its end.
As proof of concept, the research team had built a 50-foot-diameter, 12-foot-high dome, which took less than 14 hours of “printing” time.
Ultimately, the system is meant to be self-sufficient and easily adaptable to existing building sites and equipment without requiring any special evaluation to fit current construction codes.
Once finished, fully operational robotic “printers” could run on solar panels and be deployed in third world countries, disaster-stricken areas to provide quick and durable shelter or even harsh terrains like Antarctica or the Moon.
Meanwhile, the research team wanted to demonstrate that their system could be enrolled in construction sites right now.
“The construction industry is still mostly doing things the way it has for hundreds of years,” says lead author Steven Keating, PhD. “The buildings are rectilinear, mostly built from single materials, put together with saws and nails,” and mostly built from standardized plans.
With the new advance, however, buildings could be endlessly customised based on data generated on-site. For example, ground penetrating radar analysis could guide the optimal placement of supporting pillars, and walls could have varying thickness depending on their orientation.
The DCP could also bring about seamless buildings devoid of traditionally recognisable elements, such as walls, floors, ceilings and windows, as the system changes its properties on the fly to produce a self-contained structure.
“Making it faster, better, and cheaper is one thing. But the ability to design and digitally fabricate multifunctional structures in a single build embodies a shift from the machine age to the biological age,“ said project co-author Neri Oxman.
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