Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
Maybe it could even build structures on Mars.
The machine takeover continues, and the next humans to lose their jobs may well be construction workers.
Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Southern California, has spent the last 15 years working on a machine that will "print" buildings. He's still working on it, but in the TedTalk video below, you can see the prototype at work. Various nozzles and robots slide around on a giant grid of mobile bars and rails, mixing cement, laying electrical wire, and installing rebar. He calls the practice Contour Crafting.
The technology, he says, will be faster than all conventional building methods, including prefab construction. It will also be cheaper, and use less energy than all but emergency construction practices. What's more, because it can build whatever you can program into a computer, it will offer unprecedented design flexibility - right angles, wild patterns, or soft curves, like those of the House of Brojerdi in Khoshnevis's native Iran.
Professor Khoshnevis thinks the technique could revolutionize construction wherever quick housing is needed. As he writes on the CC website:
Contour Crafting will most probably be one of the very few feasible approaches for building structures on other planets, such as the Moon and Mars, which are being targeted for human colonization before the end of the new century.
The colonization part is news to us, but regardless, the machine will be able build a 2,500-square foot house in 20 hours! Watching the machine pour concrete at the 6:45 mark, 20 hours seems like plenty of time.