3D printing has slowly gone from a curious novelty to a totally viable option for creating all kinds of useful things, from chocolate to athletic shoes, and now MIT has invented a way to use the technology to print buildings, too. Given that most 3D printing takes place inside a sealed box, it might be a bit hard to imagine exactly how a structure could be built in such a way, but as you’ll see it can most definitely be done.
The peculiar system is essentially a robotically-controlled arm that sprays an expanding foam which dries hard — kind of like the gap-filling foam you’d buy at a hardware store. The system’s sensors detect the hight at which the arm sprays the foam, gradually lifting itself higher as the walls of the structure take shape. In the demo video, the robot is shown building a circular structure with double-thick foam walls supported by internal bracing. The dome was completed in less than 14 hours, which is pretty speedy when you consider it was 12 feet tall and 50 feet across.
The system can even account for doorways, can build walls at varying thicknesses to account for specific climates, and could potentially use other materials which it would harvest from the surrounding area if deployed in a remote area. MIT even notes that, once it’s built to be completely autonomous, it would be a great option for sending to the moon or Mars where traditional building materials wouldn’t necessarily be available.