The construction industry is often considered to be behind the times. Construction workers labor in all weathers using a complex range of bulky and complex machinery that is all manually operated.
They’re subject to a growing array of costly and time consuming safety protocols that slow down the entire building process and houses can takes months to build.
In contrast, the vast majority of other commodities that we use and own, from household electronics to cars, are manufactured using entirely automated processes that are cost effective, efficient and safe.
There are machines that can build or make pretty much anything we can imagine and yet our houses are still built by teams of people.
it’s a no-brainer to assume that behind the scenes there’s a vast amount of research going into making house building cheaper, safer, more efficient and above all, automated.
In this article we’ll be looking at some of these emerging technologies…
The Hadrian 105 Prototype
Named after the famous Hadrian’s Wall (built in Roman times and yet enduring to the present day,) the Hadrian 105 prototype designed by Australian firm ‘Fast Bricks Robotics’ is a robust house building robot designed to automatically lay bricks and spray concrete.
It has sensors to detect whether the bricks are placed correctly, can be programmed to follow any design and can outperform a human team of construction workers at a ratio of 2:42 days.
Before we can understand the fundamental design of the Termite Robot we need to know a little bit about termites.
Termites are insects that live in vast colonies than can number over a million individuals. They are divided into three categories - reproductives; responsible for the very successful procreation of the species, soldiers; responsible for the defence of the colony and workers; responsible for foraging, feeding the young and building complex and extensive nests.
Termite workers build nests or mounds than can rise as much as 10 metres above the ground. They gather building material, bring it to the nest site and intuitively place the material in the right place.
There is no master plan, no set design or structure of control, the termites simply assess where previous material has been placed and set theirs down accordingly and amazingly it all comes together in fantastic thermo-regulating structures that provide safety and shelter.
These workers have provided the prototype for the futuristic house building Termite Robot.
These 8 inch long robots are able to build intuitively. They’re programmed with a set of ‘traffic rules’ – for example the correct placement of bricks - and a blueprint so that we can design houses to set shapes and trends but beyond that they’re self-sufficient.
They use inbuilt sensors to determine the progress of the build and where their own material should be placed in relation to what has been placed before.
This is a process called Stimergy, meaning that individual components can ‘communicate’ by sensing, recognising and modifying their immediate surroundings.
There is a similar prototype robot based on wasps; construction drones that can fly materials around a building site.
The applications of these technologies are mind blowing and endless.
Together they could give us the ability to build habitable structures in the most inhabitable of places such as underwater or even in space.
This is technology that creates full body armour with robotic abilities.
This could allow your average human construction worker to be faster, stronger, safer and more efficient - as well as looking seriously impressive and futuristic - and it’s already being tested.
Incredibly some of the prototypes for these suits are already in use in physiotherapy; exoskeletons that can be worn by patients with paralysis to aid rehabilitation and mobility.
There are also exo-suits being developed for military applications to allow soldiers in combat to be stronger and faster.
On the building site the applications are endless…but only if the suits can be designed to effectively interpret the user’s intent into actions and only if the problems of battery efficiency can be overcome.
This is still very much a work in progress.
3D printed houses?
3D Printing is a process whereby solid three dimensional objects can be created from a digital file.
A computerised 3D modelling programme is used to build an image of the thing you want to make and a 3D scanner makes a digital copy.
Modelling software then slices the 3D scan into hundreds, sometime thousands of 2D layers. A 3D printer is used to read each layer individually and to build the object from the bottom up by creating the layers one at a time from a liquid material that is hardened using ultraviolet light or electronic beams.
This is called an additive process; literally adding layer on layer until the object is complete.
This recent news report revealed that in China 10 full size bungalows were constructed in just one day using a giant 3D printer.
It follows the same process explained above and the material used is a concrete mixed from waste materials, pumped through a nozzle into the necessary layers and hardened on contact.
The construction cost of these bungalows was estimated at less than £3000 each.
These were built using an actual house shaped design but there are other alternatives.
An Italian 3D printing company – WASP – has created the largest 3D printer in the World. It prints a series of triangular bricks from a base material of dirt, hay, rocks and water, that fit together to form a simple, dome shaped, single room house.
The mud and hay components mean these single rooms are thermo-regulating and energy efficient. It’s fast, cheap, environmentally friendly (very little waste) and the implications are amazing.
check out this video
How does the future look?
Is it realistic to think that robots and printers will create our houses in the future? Yes! They’re already doing it and as the technology expands and the costs decrease we really can expect to see an end to traditional building sites. The only real debate is the effect it will have on employment - but we know that technology is eventually going to make all our jobs don't we?
Picture the building site of the future - the buzzing of overhead drones; the ground alive with scuttling Termite Robots and the clanging noise of robotic footsteps as men/women in exoskeletons move around carrying framework that far exceeds their own body weight. With a little imagination and a moody backdrop you’ve got the perfect science fiction movie image - but this isn’t science fiction, it’s real and it’s happening right now.
These technologies mean that natural disaster zones could be transformed in a matter of hours by printing practical accommodation for survivors.
The housing crisis in many countries could be alleviated by simply printing small scale affordable houses for those in need.
There are many different views but they all agree on one point;
the future is coming and we can’t stand in the way of progress.