Nail guns and chop saws are easy to find in a construction worker’s pickup truck, but if Saša Jokić and Petr Novikov [and fellow researchers Shihui Jin, Stuart Maggs, Dori Sadan and Cristina Nan] are successful, robotic concrete mixers could be the next must-have power tools. Their creations are called Minibuilders and are a new breed of pint-sized drone that could very well 3-D print a house.
Robots that can 3-D print at architectural scale aren’t new (think about that for a second), but this technical approach makes the concept seem more realistic than ever before. Prior experiments have utilized massive gantry-based systems that can deposit thick ropes of concrete to construct a passable shelter in short order. But for those systems to succeed they need to be larger than the structure they’re fabricating. The sheer scale required makes design and fabrication impractical, expensive, and greatly limits the size of the building that can be created.
Minibots work essentially the same way as their crane-sized counterparts and deposit layers of liquified build material. The primary difference is a more modest scale and a very different design approach….
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Using multiple task driven robots is a cool approach. Although the gantry style systems that have been popular the last few years were a good first step, I don’t see them as a long term solution. The two approaches I’ve been expecting to see soon:
1. three or more towers place around a large build envelope with a winched print head – similar to the camera rigs over large stadiums – that reloads small material batches from a stationary hopper driven mixer
2. using existing machinery (e.g. excavators, which are just robot arms on tracks) to refill material from a stationary hopper mixer
The other thing that seems to be missing is using multiple materials. For example, most structures are a composite and also have an insulation component, which in some cases can also act as part of the structure (like bone has multiple densities, or foam core composites). I think the moon regolith printer project was doing something like this.