Donal Reddington on mass customization, crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing


Could a concrete house be built in a day?

The Discover magazine website has an article about Behrokh Khoshnevis, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California, who has made a ‘contour crafter’.  This machine is a type of digital wall builder, where a robotically controlled nozzle squeezes a ribbon of concrete. When the nozzle completes a circuit, it tops the previous ribbon with a fresh one. Through this process a wall rises without any human intervention.

Professor Khoshnevis plans to further develop his machine to the point where it can construct a house in one day.  Of course, as the Discover article notes:

A wall alone does not make a house.  A contour crafter would also need to insert plumbing pipes, electrical wiring, and ventilation ducts in walls as it builds them. The prototype can’t do that, but Khoshnevis sees that as a trivial problem: “The second hand on your watch was placed robotically on a tiny shaft. Modern robotics can achieve tight tolerances and very high speeds. So having segments of tubing robotically inserted, put atop one another, and welded together as the wall goes up is really a no-brainer.”

The article looks at the many other implications of a machine-built house, and is definitely worth reading.  One potential benefit of this technology would be the possibility of building houses quickly in regions of the world where poverty makes conventional houses too expensive for local people.

Khoshnevis is inspired by the technology’s potential to build dignified low-income housing.  “A billion people today do not have adequate shelter,” he says. Using soil dug from the building site and stabilized with cement, the contour crafter could erect inexpensive dwellings customized to a family’s needs.

First-world builders might be concerned about the implications of a technology that can construct houses with hardly any human labour.  However, the potential loss of employment in wealthier countries may be a price to pay for something that could raise living standards for millions of people in poor countries.

I found this Discover article via the blog of Mark Proffitt.  The potential of digital manufacturing technologies to improve the lives of people in poor countries is something he looks at himself (see next post).

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