Construction Materials

Insight into a development process: The robotic fabrication of concrete facade mullions with smart dynamic casting


After the successful completion of the production of the material-optimised concrete façade mullions, Fabio Scotto and Ena Lloret-Frischti of the Gramazio Kohler Research Group at ETH Zurich and the Chair for Physical Chemistry of Building Materials, ETH Zurich take a look back at the experiments and prototypes which were necessary in the development of a final robotic fabrication process. The integration of Smart Dynamic Casting (SDC) for the production of the façade mullions for the first floor of DFAB HOUSE has led us to the development of an adaptive robotic setup which allows us to produce custom-made reinforced concrete structures. Until the final development of a robust robotic process, we had to overcome several challenges during the experimental and prototypical phase. Scaling down the production system and minimizing the friction forces Our first main task was to scale down the production system to realise structures with a minimal cross section of 100 70 mm. This had a direct impact on the formwork system we were working with previously.

The Construction Industry in the 21st Century

Communications of the ACM

The construction of New York's Empire State Building is often seen as the figurative and literal pinnacle of construction efficiency, rising 1,250 feet and 102 stories from the ground to its rooftop spire in just over 13 months' time, at a human cost of just five lives. Indeed, most of today's construction projects would be lucky to come close to that level of speed, regardless of the building's size. While the construction industry traditionally has been slow to change the way it operates, several new technologies are poised to usher in a new era of faster and more automated construction practices. Three-dimensional (3D) printing is among the key technologies that are expected to change the way structures are built in the future, as construction engineers and contractors seek methods for completing buildings more quickly, more efficiently, and, in many cases, with a greater attention paid to sustainability. Large printers that can print construction materials such as foam or concrete into specific shapes can drastically speed up the creation of walls, decorative or ornamental pieces, and even certain structural elements.

Network management key for IoT


Kathy Gibson at VMworld in Barcelona – The network isn't what it used to be: in the digital world, the network now extends from the cloud to the core to the edge – adding to the CIO's concerns about management and security. Nowhere is this more apparent that at the edge, where the Internet of Things (IoT) is starting to gain real traction, says Joe Baguley, chief technology officer: EMEA at VMware. There's no shortage of sensors being deployed in "things" as diverse as manufacturing plant, city infrastructure and even building materials. Meanwhile, the narrow-band networks, data collection gateway appliances and analytics to make intelligent use of the data produced are all well understood. Baguley explains that VMware is working on two separate but related technologies that will address this issue, and help IoT solution providers and customers to better manage these increasingly-vital and –pervasive networks.

Building with robots and 3D printers: Construction of the DFAB HOUSE up and running


At the Empa and Eawag NEST building in Dübendorf, eight ETH Zurich professors as part of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication are collaborating with business partners to build the three-storey DFAB HOUSE. It is the first building in the world to be designed, planned and built using predominantly digital processes. Robots that build walls and 3D printers that print entire formworks for ceiling slabs – digital fabrication in architecture has developed rapidly in recent years. As part of the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication, architects, robotics specialists, material scientists, structural engineers and sustainability experts from ETH Zurich have teamed up with business partners to put several new digital building technologies from the laboratory into practice. Construction is taking place at NEST, the modular research and innovation building that Empa and Eawag built on their campus in Dübendorf to test new building and energy technologies under real conditions.

MIT students hack assistive technology solutions for local clients

MIT News

More than 1 billion people globally need one or more assistive devices, such as prosthetics and communication devices, to address problems resulting from their disabilities. However, currently 90 percent of people in need are without access to those products, according to the World Health Organization. Compounding this accessibility issue is a massive shortage in the assistive technology workforce. To promote innovation and long-term interest in working in the field of assistive technologies, the Assistive Technologies Hackathon (ATHack), now in its fourth year, is held at Beaver Works in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During the event this spring, MIT students develop technological solutions to problems faced by Greater Boston-area clients with disabilities.

Abdulaziz al-Horr: In Qatar, business as usual

Al Jazeera

Qatar says its citizens and residents won't face economic hardship, despite the sea, air and land embargo imposed by its Gulf neighbours Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. For Qatar to find alternative suppliers is much easier than for Saudi to find alternative clients at this period of time. Thus far, the blockade has forced trucks laden with food supplies to turn back at Qatar's only land border with Saudi Arabia; similar action has also meant construction materials intended for the FIFA World Cup 2022 stadium developments have been rerouted. Saudi and Emirati ports have also enforced bans on Qatari vessels and products moving to and from their hubs, while Qatar Airways flights have taken lengthy detours over Iranian and Omani airspace, affecting thousands of business travellers and families across the GCC. But according to Abdulaziz al-Horr, CEO of Qatar Finance and Business Academy, the current situation is not entirely unique, saying that based on experiences with previous crises in the last decade, Qatar has prepared contingency plans that put the peninsula in a good position to weather the storm.

Robotics, Smart Materials, and their Future Impact for Humans


The boundaries between smart materials, artificial intelligence, embodiment, biology, and robotics are blurring. Smart materials largely cover the same set of physical properties (stiffness, elasticity, viscosity) as biological tissue and state-of-the-art soft robotic technologies that have the potential to deliver this capability. We can foresee smart skins, assist and medical devices, biodegradable and environmental robots or intelligent soft robots. Ultimately wearable assist devices will make conventional assist devices redundant.

Check out this building that was 3-D-printed by a robot

Los Angeles Times

The future of construction just got a little bit more real. Researchers at MIT have created a mobile robot that can 3-D-print an entire building in a matter of hours -- a technology that could be used in disaster zones, on inhospitable planets or even in our proverbial backyards. Though the platform described in the journal Science Robotics is still in early stages, it could offer a revolutionary tool for the construction industry and inspire more architects to rethink the relationship of buildings to people and the environment. Current construction practices typically involve bricklaying, wood framing and concrete casting – technologies that have been around for decades in some cases, and centuries in others. Homes and office buildings are often built in the same boxy, cookie-cutter-like templates, even though the environment from one area to another may change dramatically.

Robotics, Smart Materials, and their Future Impact for Humans


The nineteenth century marked the acceleration and wide adoption of industrial processes. In the twentieth century, technology moved from the laboratory and research institute to the home. We are now at the cusp of a new technological shift of equal significance: the Robotics Revolution. But what is the Robotics Revolution and what will it actually deliver? A "robot" is often defined as a machine that can carry out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer.

Energy-efficient design

MIT News

Designing energy-efficient buildings can be challenging: Incorporating features that decrease the energy needed to run them often increases the energy-intensive materials required to build them, and vice versa. Now an MIT team has demonstrated a computer simulation that can help architects optimize their designs for both future operational energy and the initial energy required for making structural materials -- at the same time. The technique rapidly generates a set of designs that offer the best compromises between those two critical energy components. The architect can then make a choice based on quantitative information as well as aesthetic preference. The demonstration produced some striking results.