Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Now 3D printers can build you a house

By now you have probably heard of the great promise 3D printers hold.  These are devices that can "print" real physical objects: from ornaments to plastic extrusions to car parts.  Soon they will hopefully be able to print a fully functioning organ like a kidney, lung, or even a heart - they can already print blood vessels.  I believe this truly is the greatest technological revolution since the silicon chip.

Well, the application of the 3D printer has been up-scaled to now include housing on the list of things that it can make.  Professor Behrokh Khshnevis refers to this particular application of 3D printing as contour crafting.

Salient points:
 An average sized home can be built in 20 hours.
 The printer can do electrical wiring and plumbing, not just the walls.
 Contours and variations can all be pre-programmed to ensure each house is customizable. You won't find a row of matchboxes lining the street.
 • Manual construction is actually very dangerous.  Contour crafting will drastically improve safety (admittedly by involving builders less).
 Cost of construction is only higher than emergency (temporary) construction.  Contour crafting is much cheaper than conventional construction.
 Contour crafting emits much lower CO2 emissions and consumes less energy than conventional building, in spite of the mechanization involved.

Contour crafting, due to its cost effectiveness and speed, will facilitate the provision of homes for the poor.  I am of the belief that dignified housing for all will reduce crime, simply because when you have something of your own to look after, you start to respect the property of other people.

What about job losses in the construction industry?  As Professor Behrokh Khshnevis says, America was once a country with 62% of farmers around 1900.  Today that number is around 1.5%, thanks to superior agricultural technology.  "The world did not end thanks to utilization of agricultural technology," he said.  It's going to be a painful transition, but one that is inevitable.

Skip to 4:30 to see the demonstration.  It's not just theory, this contraption has already been tested and it works.  There's no going back from this.

This, rather than some mobile app that manipulates photographs, is real disruptive technology.

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