Construction robot can 3D-print small buildings

Spanish engineers have developed the world’s first cable-driven robot which can produce large construction components – and even small buildings – in situ.

The new construction robot 3D-prints large clay objects, and monitors projects. It was developed by engineers from technology firm Tecnalia and the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia.

Cable-driven robots use flexible, suspended cables as the basis for their movement. Perhaps the most famous cable-driven robot is SKYCAM, a cable-suspended robot videographer that can move in three dimensions around sports stadiums and catch otherwise impossible angles.

Tecnalia’s robot, Cogiro, measures 15x11x6m and has an inbuilt 3D printer with a large work area of 13.6x9.4x3.3m, in which it can move and rotate in three dimensions. 3D printing computer-modelled parts for construction would allow for greater customisation.

Cogiro can also pick up real-time information about the status of a construction project.

It is possible, for instance, to collect thermal data to monitor the drying status of layers of material. This means that extra layers will not accidentally be piled on top of layers that are still drying and unstable, leading to defective foundations.

Cogiro contains an extruder for printing with clay-like material, and soon will be able to work with cement-based material too. A prototype will be presented at the BBCConstrumat fair in May.

As cable-driven robots are cheap to install and maintain, they are promising new tools in the construction sector. Robots like Cogiro could have further applications in the shipbuilding, nuclear, aeronautical and renewable energy sectors, handling and assembling parts, and automating processes such as painting and inspection.

Automated machines have been playing more prominent and varied roles in construction. American start-up Skycatch has begun to use drones on high-profile building projects. These drones give a bird’s-eye view of a site, streamlining the logistics of construction by monitoring progress across the entire site. Meanwhile, Japanese construction machinery company Komatsu has begun using the same drones as the ‘eyes for automated bulldozers to plot their work.

Recently, an American company, Construction Robotics, has discussed bringing a new bricklaying robot to the UK. This robot, which can lay 3000 bricks a day – six times more than the average human bricklayer – has prompted worries of mass layoffs in the construction sector.

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