Want a peek into the future? Watch these robots 3D print concrete structures

3D printing is one of the most exciting revolutions to hit manufacturing in decades, but it’s not without its limitations. Perhaps the biggest of these is the fact that, unless you create an unusually large 3D printer or break your model up into a whole lot of pieces, it’s difficult to create especially large 3D-printed objects. Fortunately, researchers from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University have come up with a neat fix to the problem — and like all the best solutions, it involves a pair of robot arms.

In a new video demo, shown above, the researchers showcased how robots can build objects of virtually any size by moving around to carry out the printing. The demonstration employed off-the-shelf components, augmented by a nozzle, couplings, printing material and — perhaps most importantly — special guidance software developed at the university. It hints at a future in which whole teams of moving robots could collaborate to build structures.

“What we are seeing [in the video] is two mobile robots concurrently printing a concrete structure,” Pham Quang Cuong, Assistant professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Nanyang Technological University, told Digital Trends. “The two robots first navigate from their base station to the printing site, then print by depositing a special type of cement layer by layer in a coordinated manner, and finally return to their base stations. The whole sequence was performed autonomously, [with] no human teleoperation.”

Cuong is no stranger to coming up with innovative uses for robots in construction tasks. Earlier this year, we wrote about another project he worked on in which robot arms were used to autonomously assemble a flat-packed Ikea chair — without having a massive argument over whether the instructions were being properly followed.

“The main potential use [for this latest project] is to print architectural, non-structural components, such as facades, either on-site or off-site,” he said. “Another team from our research center, the Singapore Center for 3D Printing, recently printed a bathroom unit using a similar technique.”

A paper describing the work, titled “Large-scale 3D Printing by a Team of Mobile Robots,” was recently published in the journal Automation in Construction.

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