Your next house could be built by a robot. Following the recent success of San Francisco-based startup Apis Cor, a team of MIT researchers have created a mobile autonomous 3D printer of their own. And to prove that the prototype works, the team had it build a 12-foot tall, 50-foot-wide igloo out of quick-setting foam -- the largest such structure made by a robot to date.
The team recently published their work in the journal Science Robotics, arguing that automation should help lower construction costs and expedite building times. Their creation, dubbed the Digital Construction Platform, consists of a large hydraulic arm mounted on caterpillar treads. At the tip of its arm, the team installed a one-fingered gripping attachment though it can be swapped out for a number of different tools including foam and thermoplastic extruders, a welder, a water hose or a bucket. Rather than rely on fossil fuels, the entire 81,000-pound system is solar powered.
This setup makes the Digital Construction Platform ideal for off-world construction projects, especially when combined with some of MIT's other 3D-printed programs like its Foundry software and memory-shape materials. However, the platform still needs further development before it starts working on real-world construction sites. The team wants to install proximity sensors, for one, in order to prevent the machine from running into structures or people as it moves about the work site. They should probably address the whole "doesn't do right angles" issue as well.