20 January 2007

On Site Robot Housebuilders--Rapid Prototyping for Dwellings

Building a new house can be a long and trying experience. It is also a bit of a gamble unless you know the contractor well--or you are competent to build your own house. Bad weather and subcontractor problems can delay the building for months, and add considerably to the total expense.

What if a robot could build the water-tight shell of your house in under 24 hours? You can take a water tight shell and build whatever you want. This TimesOnline story describes two different approaches to robot housebuilding--the 24 hour approach, and the one week approach.
By building almost an entire house from just two materials — concrete and gypsum — the robots will eliminate the need for dozens of traditional components, including floorboards, wooden window frames and possibly even wallpaper. It may eventually be possible to use specially treated gypsum instead of glass window panes.

Engineers on both projects say the robots will not only cut costs and avoid human delays but liberate the normal family homes from the conventional designs of pitched roofs, right-angled walls and rectangular windows.

“The architectural options will explode,” predicted Dr Behrokh Khoshnevis at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who will soon unleash his $1.5m (£940,000) robot. “We will be able to build curves and domes as easily as straight walls.

....Inspired by the inkjet printer, the technology goes far beyond the techniques already used for prefabricated homes. “This will remove all the limitations of traditional building,” said Hugh Whitehead of the architecture firm Foster & Partners, which designed the “Gherkin” skyscraper in London and is producing designs for the Loughborough team. “Anything you can dream you can build.”

The robots are rigged to a metal frame, enabling them to shuttle in three dimensions and assemble the structure of the house layer by layer. The sole foreman on site operates a computer programmed with the designer’s plans.

The researchers in Los Angeles claim their robot will be able to build the shell of a house in 24 hours. “Compared to a conventional house, the speed of construction will be increased 200-fold and the building costs will be reduced to a fifth of what they are today,” said Khoshnevis.

Here are other descriptions of robo-building, with a bit of the history, from NewScientist and Discover.

And this story from Housebuilder's Update Blog describes a family-owned housebuilding factory in Belgium that has used robot bricklayers for many years. Their factory approach apparently introduces efficiencies into housebuilding that are impossible with other approaches, up until now.

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