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Building the homes of the future

08-Aug-2017


Mei Ann Foo

Originally published in Billionaire

It’s the dawn of the next Industrial Revolution. Labour is being liberated by new technology. We will be seeing more state-of-the-art machines on our building sites instead of armies of hard-hatted men. Now, robots with circuit-board brains and screw-fastened bodies can build full-sized homes for humans in just a day. 3D printing can create buildings with zero waste, powered by electricity or the sun’s energy.

Automated construction could see bot-made homes rapidly built in remote areas of emerging economies and inaccessible disaster zones to provide shelter quickly. Bots could potentially, even build or print homes on extra-terrestrial planets.

Drones

We know them as tiny, remotely controlled quadcopters, birthed amid code and cloud, and capable of carefully transporting various materials. Armed with bird’s eye and 3D-model views of construction sites, drone data has significantly improved how workers on a project throughout different departments communicate with each other. US start-up Skycatch is currently using highly automated drones on some high-profile building projects — rumoured to include the new 175-acre Apple Park inCupertino, California.

Autonomous vehicles

Japanese construction equipment company Komatsu has taken things up a notch by using Skycatch drones to be the eyes of fully automated bulldozers. According to a report by the BBC, 3D models of a building site are sent from the drones to a computer, which then feeds the information to the unmanned machinery to plot its course.

German automotive corporation Daimler also began to test autonomous trucks in 2015. With the help of component supplier Bosch, it hopes to put the fully automated vehicle to actual use by “the beginning of the next decade” — only about three years off. So, by 2030, delivery drivers may be a distant memory, as trucks are loaded by robots, self-dispatched, and mechanically offloaded.

3D printers

Thanks to additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing, it is now possible to print just about anything, including construction materials such as bricks and concrete. In China, some companies claim to have printed entire structures from concrete via hall-sized 3D printers in mere hours. Still, structural confidence is at a low and nobody wants to live in those Chinese houses, according to experts in the field. Tapping into the research done at the University of Eindhoven, UAE-based construction company DuBox managed to print a “safer” concrete element.

“Can it support the structure? That’s what we care about,” says a representative. “As we print, we can also put sensors into the mixture, which can tell us about the conditions, such as the strength of the finished building, now and in the future.”

In 3D printing, there is also precise use of material as you print according to calculated structural strength, so there is virtually no waste. Plus, this opens up a whole new kind of dimension for architects, where functional, complex and odd-shaped designs can exist.

Once 3D printing is fully commercialised, homebuilding will be changed forever. Expect to see a 3D-printing room incorporated into every house of the future, which homeowners can use to print everyday objects such as plates, lamps, towels, faucets — even the kitchen sink.

Recycling Platforms

The construction industry is one of the world’s most heinous pollutors. In the UK alone, around half of the nation’s 200 million tonnes of waste came from the building industry in 2012. Digital start-ups like LOOP, founded last year by Lydia Dutton and Terry Clarke, aims to address these issues with an online platform for the construction industry. The LOOP Digital Marketplace connects supply and demand, allowing internal and external trading, and creation of material wishlists. Members get ’Material Asset Passports’ with the aim to make sharing of building materials "business as usual" across the built environment, said Dutton. England’s Crossrail Project, the future 118-kilometre railway line running through parts of London and the home counties, is a client.


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