Home SCIENCE Watch this Robot 3D Print a Building Out of Spray Foam

Watch this Robot 3D Print a Building Out of Spray Foam

This MIT robot, rolling on tank tracks, can already 3D-print a concrete dome structure in 14 hours. But the development team has plans to have it roaming the land on its own, selecting and clearing building sites, designing homes, gathering building materials and completing construction without any human intervention.

image/text credit: IEEE Spectrum

Construction seems like an industry that, were I still living in Silicon Valley, I would be tempted to call “ripe for disruption.” Researchers at the MIT Media Lab agree, pointing out in a paper just published in Science Robotics that construction “relies on traditional fabrication technologies that are dangerous, slow, and energy-intensive.” Hey, sounds like a job for some robots, right?

image/text credit: IEEE Spectrum

The Media Lab’s paper introduces the Digital Construction Platform (DCP), which is “an automated construction system capable of customized on-site fabrication of architectural-scale structures.” In other words, it’s a robot arm that uses additive construction techniques to build large structures safely, quickly, and even (in some cases) renewably.


MIT Media Lab’s Digital Construction Platform (DCP) is mobile (with a top speed of 0.5 m/s) and self contained. It’s battery powered (with a few solar panels on it and an option for more to be attached), so it can potentially run forever, or as long as you have sun. Otherwise, the DCP mimics much of the functionality of a 3D building printer: It has a long reach, giving it a maximum printable volume of 2,786 cubic meters.

The robot itself is made out of two arms, modeled loosely on a human: There’s a big long arm with 4 degrees of freedom (DoF) that does all the gross motions, and one small, dexterous 6-DoF Kuka arm that takes care of fine motions like our hands and fingers would. Put it all together, and the total system cost comes to US $244,500, which is really not that bad.