These robots can 3D print an entire structure

A team of Makers from the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) has developed a set of experimental robots capable of building clay structures in their attempt to overcome existing limitations of 3D printing in large-scale. The creation — appropriately named Minibuilders — is a new breed of pint-sized mechanisms that could very well 3D print a house or another structure of serious magnitude.


As the group notes, “There has always been a close relationship between architecture and technology. Yet, in recent times, architecture has stagnated and the construction industry has been slow to adopt technologies that are already well established in other fields. Robotics and additive manufacturing offer great potential towards innovation within the construction industry.”


The objective of the project was to create a family of small-scale, mobile construction bots proficient in constructing objects far larger than the robots themselves. Moreover, each of the robots were specifically design to perform a diverse task, linked to the various phases of construction, all coming together as a family towards the implementation of a single structural outcome. As a result, the team decided to use a number of much smaller robots working in unison, rather than a single, much larger machine.


The “family” is comprised of various bots: Foundation Robots, Grip Robots and Vacuum Robots. The Foundation Robot is responsible for laying down the first 20 layers of material used to create a foundation footprint. Powered by an [Atmel based] Arduino board, the robot is able to steer along a predefined path with the help of mounted sensors that recognize curves along the ground. These small robots are connected with pipes to the supplier robot, that feeds the printing material.


To create the main shell of the final structure, the Grip Robot attaches to the recently-constructed foundation footprint. The robot’s four rollers clamp to the upper edge of the structure, therefore enabling it to move along the previously printed material and extrude more layers. Besides a rotational actuator, each roller is connected to a steering actuator that allows the robot to position precisely over the structure. Controlled by custom software, the robot follows a predefined path, all while still capable of adjusting its path to correct errors within the printing process.

To reinforce the shell printed by the first two robots, the third member of the family, the Vacuum Robot, affixes to the surface by using a vacuum generator and a suction cup. The vacuum concealed inside holds the robot on the surface, while allowing it to still move around freely. The robot moves and steers itself with two tracks. According to its creators, these bots can travel over surfaces of any inclination.


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