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Construction robots will be building it big

There have been various innovations with robotics for the building industry. Robot bricklayers that seem to outperform any human. Drones can now build walls by transporting one brick at a time. Things are really set to change, however, through new technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The use of digital technology for design space applications on building sites is appealing to many construction firms. Two recent examples are with the Clark Construction Group and Wasco, who have worked with The Lab School in Washington, DC to help develop construction site robots. Governments are also interested too. Mark Farmer who runs a construction consultancy called Cast was commissioned last year by the British government to see what digital technology can do for the sector.

The innovation is called the Digital Construction Platform (or simply ‘DCP’). It may not look like much to begin with, resembling a flattened crane like construction equipped with solar panels. Yet it is the latest in both robotic tasks and 3D printing (and it’s mobile too, coming with wheels). The DCP is used to produce structures for building sites, from scaffolding to materials that go into the building itself. Many of the designs produced would have been very difficult for construction workers to fashion using traditional methods.

The chief application of DCP is to design and digitally fabricate multifunctional structures. This means a device like the DCP could transform the way that homes, offices and other structures are built, as the video below reveals:

The video shows how the DCP robot built an igloo-shaped building half the diameter of the U.S. Capitol dome. And it did so all by itself in around 14 hours.

READ MORE: Humans will disappear from building sites by 2050

The DCP design may not look like much bit it’s effective. The robot, Science Magazine reports, consists of a large hydraulic arm on motorized tank like treads. Towards the end of the arm is a smaller electric arm for finer movements. These two systems implement a micro-macro manipulator robot architecture akin to the biological model of the human shoulder and hand. The arm takes swappable tools for tasks like welding, digging, and 3D printing. The combined reach of the arms is an impressive 10 meters.

Furthermore, the DCP is capable of light printing, excavation, welded-chain construction, and additive fabrication with the Print-in-Place process. With the printing, the robot has a maximum printable volume of 2,786 cubic meters.

The brains behind DCP, Dr. Steven Keating, told TechCrunch where things will go next: “Our future vision for this project is to have self-sufficient robotic systems. Just like a tree gathers its own energy, our platform is being developed toward the design goal of being able to gather its own energy. We’ve shown that through photovoltaic energy. And being able to gather and use local materials.”

Robotics have been a little slow to come to the construction world, unlike with car production. Now, however, robotics is set to radically change the building trade through speed and innovation, at least according to CBC’s technology analysts. This comes with an initial hefty price tag, however; if you want a DCP device it’ll cost in the region of $244,500.

More details about the design and functionality of DCP are detailed in the journal Science Robotics. The research paper is titled “Toward Site-Specific and Self-Sufficient Robotic Fabrication on Architectural Scales.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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