Giant robotic arm 3D-prints a two-story house


A new 3D construction printer from Icon can whip out two-story concrete buildings faster and cheaper than its previous Vulcan printer. It has already been used to build a 27-ft-high structure called Phoenix House, now on display in Austin, Texas.

Since introducing its first 3D-printed house at the SXSW festival in Austin in 2018, Texas-based Icon has become a leader in creating 3D-printed structures. Using its Vulcan 3D construction printer, it has now built over 130 homes across the US and Mexico and has plans to build the world’s largest 3D-printed neighborhood in its home state. It has also been part of a NASA project to build a model habitat for Mars and is working on the development of 3D-printed Moon-based structures including landing pads, roads, and habitats as part of Project Olympus.

Now the company has taken another leap forward in the 3D construction printing world with the release of its Phoenix printer. The Icon team says it wanted to make a 3D printer that was easier to set up and move from site to site, one that could reduce the number of required operators, and one that could get bigger jobs done faster. The result is Phoenix, a 3D printer that consists of a large free-moving articulated arm on a rotating base, which is quite a bit different from the company’s previous Vulcan printer, which is locked into a pillar and cross-beam structure.

One of the main challenges in designing a 3D construction printer with a head attached at the end of a swinging arm was creating the accuracy needed to build livable structures. Icon was able to develop a stabilization system that could prevent the extruding nozzle at the end of the arm from swaying from its own movements or winds from the environment. This new system is not only more mobile, but it can now handle the printing of larger structures like Phoenix House as well as those with multiple stories.

27 Ft-tall 3D-printed Structure Built by New Robot | ICON’s Multi-Story Robotic Construction System

According to the company, the new Phoenix printer cuts costs by half from what the Vulcan printer was able to achieve. Icon says that using the system will cost about US$25/square foot for wall systems or $80/square foot for structures that include a foundation and a roof. That could shave off about US$25,000 for a build of a typical American home, says Icon.

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“In the future, I believe nearly all construction will be done by robots, and nearly all construction-related information will be processed and managed by AI systems,” said Jason Ballard, ICON Co-Founder and CEO. “It is clear to me that this is the way to cut the cost and time of construction in half while making homes that are twice as good and more faithfully express the values and hopes of the people who live in them.”

To that end, the company has also recently announced the release of Vitruvius, an AI-based system that allows anyone to design a home that can actually be built using the company’s technology.

“The ultimate goal of Vitruvius is to take human and project inputs and produce robust architecture, plans, permit-ready designs, budgets, and schedules,” said the company in a statement released earlier this month. “Vitruvius will help anyone design homes and generate floor plans, interior renders, and exterior renders in minutes based on their own desires, budgets, and feedback.” Icon says the Vitruvius system should be able to produce full construction documents and permit-ready designs along with budgets and construction schedules by the end of the year.

For now, you can try out Vitruvius in its beta version on the program’s website.

Source: Icon


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