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A 3-D Printed House?

August 15, 2012

Well, this may well be the coolest video you see today.

It’s a TEDx talk from a fellow named Behrokh Khoshnevis, who is a professor of engineering at USC, where he directs something called the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies. CRAFT has stated as its grand challenge “building a custom-designed house in a day while drastically reducing the costs, injuries, waste and environmental impact associated with traditional construction techniques.” The applications of such rapid-fire housing are endless: affordable housing for the poor; “extraterrestrial buildings constructed from in situ materials”; emergency FEMA-style housing, and the like.

But don’t listen to me–listen to the guy who’s trying to make it a reality. If you’re short on time and want to focus on the tech, hop ahead towards the 4-minute mark.

And if you’re really pressed for time, let me call out some of the most exciting things the professor says here, with a few little glosses of my own.

“The building is built layer by layer,” he says, adding that “in the process lots of things can be done including automatic reinforcement, automatic plumbing…” In other words, you get a full house, not some sort of ramshackle Potemkin village-style façade.

“In the end the whole building can be ready in an unprecedented time. We anticipate that an average house…can be built in about 20 hours, custom-designed.” A house in a day? That’s pretty disruptive.

“The walls do not necessarily have to be rectilinear… you can execute very exotic beautiful architectural features, without incurring extra costs.” Translation: we can all have our own angular or undulating Taliesen Wests and Bilbao Museums, on a smaller scale.

He goes on to show the device actually pumping out a concrete wall with 10,000 PSI strength–more than a threefold factor above the average 3,000 PSI strength found in most concrete structures. He includes illustrations showing how a multi-nozzle machine can build wide structures, and how a machine can scale a building to make tall ones. And he mentions support he’s been receiving from NASA, which is interested in developing the tech to build landing pads, roads, hangars, support walls, and the like on the moon or elsewhere.

Bur wait? What about the construction industry–won’t this put everyone out of work? Yes and no. As the professor says: “There’s a lot of concern about people being put out of construction jobs, but the reality is that a lot of new jobs can be created in this sector as well… “ Women and the elderly could be put to work in construction, a field in which they don’t exactly dominate now. “Those groups of people can also be employed in more creative activities of construction.”

Still, he doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that yes, a number of able-bodied men will be put out of work. That’s no excuse, he says, for not seizing on this technology and all the opportunities it represents. At the turn of the 20th century, 62% of Americans were farmers, he points out. Today, that figure’s something like 1.5%. And yet the world didn’t collapse. “The same will be true in the case of construction. There will always be better economies resulted from advancement and utilization of technologies that just make sense.”

What do you think?