This Army Of Robots Could Be Responsible For Building The Cities Of Tomorrow

Even though the process of architectural design has never been more advanced, the system by which we actually put together our buildings, roads, and cities actually leaves a lot to be desired. It too often tends to be messy, inefficient, and fraught with human error.  Isn't it high time for an update?  A group of researchers from the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia certainly think so. 

Some of you might point to 3D printing as the solution to our woes. Unfortunately,  that's not exactly an ideal process, either. The equipment necessary to put together 3D-printed buildings is far too massive to be practical in all but the most specific of circumstances, to say nothing of the costs involved in actually transporting all the printed materials. 

"If you want to make an object as big as a stadium or a skyscraper you'll need to design a machine bigger than that object in at least one axis," explained researchers Petr Novikov and Sasa Jokic. "Making such machines isn't economically reasonable, sustainable, and, in some cases, simply impossible due to their size.", then, can we bring the construction process into the 21st century? 

Robots. The aforementioned researchers have invented a swarm of robotic construction drones - minibuilders, they're evidently called - that they say could be used to inexpensively put together buildings of virtually any size. Not only that, they'd be able to do so with an unprecedented level of speed. See, when the construction process involves humans, it can take anywhere from weeks to months - sometimes even years - to put together a structure. Minibuilders, on the other hand, would be able to erect buildings nearly as fast as they could be designed. 

It's a little hard to believe, isn't it?

How it works is that the robots work together in teams, with each group of robots carrying out a specialized task. First, a group of 'bots excretes material which hardens into the shell of the building. While this is going on, foundation robots move around a track, shoring up the structure's first twenty layers. Finally, once that process is complete, several more robots clamp onto the side of the building, adding ceilings, frames for doors and windows, and extra floors. 

In essence, the robots are putting together a 3D-printed building without the 3D printer.

"The robots can work simultaneously while performing different tasks, and having a fixed size they can create objects of virtually any scale, as far as material properties permit," said Novikov and Jokic. "They are extremely easy to transport to the site. All these features make them incredibly efficient and reduce environmental footprint of construction."

Of course, at the moment, the robots only construct the frame of the building. They aren't yet equipped with the capacity to do plumbing, That functionality, explain the creators, is something they're looking to implement in future iterations of the Minibuilders. Eventually, they envision that the construction process won't require a human touch at all - we'll be able to plan, design, and build our cities with a few cliks of a button. 

For some reason, that's actually kind of a scary thought. 

Project credits:
Minibuilders is a project of IAAC, Institute for Advanced Architecture of
developed during Open Thesis Fabrication in 2013 by:
Researchers: Shihui Jin, Stuart Maggs, Dori Sadan and Cristina Nan
Faculty: Saša Joki? and Petr Novikov
Sponsored by: SD Ventures