It would seem that the MIT has decided to create a new sort of 3D printer, and this isn’t the one that you want to keep on your desk. Not even in your house, for that matter, since this one’s created in order to work on the large construction sites of the future. This incredibly long robotic arm, posted on caterpillar treads has just created the biggest structure that a robot has ever built so far, and it did it in only 13 hours.
Even though the robot still isn’t fully developed and is currently in its proof-of-concept stage, it managed to achieve this incredible feat. It was created with the hope that this new technology could automatize construction, and that it could reduce the cost while it boosts the safety of construction workers. It’s been theorized that it might even help in the colonization of other planets someday, and it could even be sent to create buildings and houses before the humans even arrive.
People have attempted to create automate construction for a long time now, ever since Thomas Edison first tried to create a system that would “create concrete structures in a single pour”. His experiment has failed, and in the years since, people have tried brick-laying robots, giant robot arms, tiny aerial drones, and even 3D-printing concrete. None of these attempts left the lab since they all turned out to be impractical in the real world. Until now, that is.
Several criteria were set by the scientists, and those include many things, like the ability of the robot to use the materials found on and near the construction site (like dirt, or ice), which could make it useful in remote areas, or maybe even other planets. Next, the robot must move on its own, but the power of flight shouldn’t be added since the machine might be damaged during the rain, or in the wind, and any such problems might cripple it for good. Also, a long arm is needed, so that it could stretch and lift heavy things.
Since none of the existing robots could do all of this, the MIT decided to create a new one that could and called it Digital Construction Platform. Basically, it’s a big hydraulic arm on caterpillar treads. It has a one-fingered hand, and a lot of different tools, like foam insulation gun, a welding attachment, a squirt gun and a thermoplastic extruder. It also has a bucket.
The first edition had a diesel engine, but the developers decided to give it battery packs and solar panels so that it could be self-sufficient. To make sure that it worked, they put a foam insulation gun in its hand and made it build an open-topped igloo in the next two days. It’s nothing special, but it was achieved by a robot and it’s still better than nothing if built on another planet.
There’s still room for work and improvements, but the team has already received calls from Google, NASA, the US military, and even someone who wanted to order an underground basketball court for a famous client.
Much still needs to be done concerning the robot itself, like adding sensors and improving the navigation system. However, this is a really big achievement that might change the nature of construction completely, especially when the problems are solved and the machine gets finished.