Forget blueprints and general contractors: why not just 3D print your entire house? One day, you might be able to, if a new autonomous 3D printing robot designed by MIT researchers ever goes on sale.
The robot is an ungainly contraption full of solar panels, a crane and running on treads instead of wheels. But because it's capable of printing the walls and other basic elements of an entire building, MIT says it could enable the design and construction of new kinds of structures that would not be feasible with traditional building methods.
The robot printer is very different than consumer 3D printers on the market today. Instead of assembling its assigned printout in an enclosure, the MIT bot's mechanical arm is fitted with nozzles that can spit out any number of substances used in building construction, such as concrete or insulation.
To prove it works, the MIT engineers used it to construct a 50-foot-diameter, 12-foot-high dome made out of polyurethane foam and concrete. The entire project took less than 14 hours of "printing" time, which presumably doesn't include the time it took to configure the robot with the required materials. And therein lies the challenge: the robot could be used on a building site right now, but it would likely require excessive handholding that would make it inefficient compared to other more conventional machines.
So the robot's real promise, according to former MIT engineering student Steven Keating, who helped designed it, lies in achieving full autonomy: a built-in scoop could both prepare the building surface and pick up local materials like dirt for an earthen structure, while the bot goes about its business needing no more electric power than what the sun offers.
Keating wants "to have something totally autonomous, that you could send to the moon or Mars or Antarctica, and it would just go out and make these buildings for years," he told MIT News. Given his choice of example building sites, though, it's safe to say that you won't be able to build your next suburban tract house with this bot any time soon.