lunes, enero 15, 2007

Robo-builder threatens the brickie, home building

by Robert Booth

Is the writing on the wall for the brickie? Engineers are racing to unveil the world’s first robot capable of building a house at the touch of a button.

The first prototype — a watertight shell of a two-storey house built in 24 hours without a single builder on site — will be erected in California before April.

A rival design, being pioneered in the East Midlands, with £1.2m of government funding, will include sunken baths, fireplaces and cornices. There are even plans for robots to supplant painters and decorators by spraying colourful frescoes at an affordable price.

By building almost an entire house from just two materials — concrete and gypsum — the robots will eliminate the need for dozens of traditional components, including floorboards, wooden window frames and possibly even wallpaper. It may eventually be possible to use specially treated gypsum instead of glass window panes.

Engineers on both projects say the robots will not only cut costs and avoid human delays but liberate the normal family homes from the conventional designs of pitched roofs, right-angled walls and rectangular windows.

“The architectural options will explode,” predicted Dr Behrokh Khoshnevis at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who will soon unleash his $1.5m (£940,000) robot. “We will be able to build curves and domes as easily as straight walls.

"Your shoes, clothes and car are already made automatically, but your house is built by hand and it doesn't make sense." That's word from Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis, whose team at USC is getting ready to debut a $1.5 million robot designed to build homes with zero help from puny humans. The bot should have its first test run in California this April, where it will build the shell of a two-story house in 24 hours.

The operation is akin to a 3D inkjet printer, with the robot moving about in three dimensional space, spraying out the home layer by layer. Part of the simplicity of the process comes from the simplicity of the materials: nearly the whole house is built with concrete and gypsum, obviously leaving a bit of work for the decorators, but allowing for complicated shapes and cheap construction -- about a fifth of current costs.

A rival robotic house building being developed at Loughborough University takes a week to build a home, but will include fancier designs, including ducts for water, electrical and ventilation. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait around 5 years for that model to hit the market, and by then we'll all be having so much fun driving around in our flying cars we won't even have time to bother with these "home" things.

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