Building a house: the robot does it!

Building a house was based on traditional technology for a long time. Now the innovations alternate in rapid succession. Houses from the 3D printer are already yesterday’s news. EMPA and ETH go one step further and created the world’s first robot to become a construction worker.

"In Situ Fabricator": this is the name of the robot that will build a three-story house in Dubendorf from 2017 to 2019 under the direction of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA) and ETH Zurich
Has. Dfab House is what the building is called, or in German, "the digitally fabricated house". In the process, the researchers have transferred several new technologies from the laboratory to the real world.

"Bob the robot" saves on materials

The robot independently welds various pieces of steel to form a curved lattice. This lattice framework is filled with a special concrete that is interspersed with fibers and lumps. This is how the concrete sticks to the grid without formwork. The robot is not faster, but it saves material in the construction of the house and allows a much greater variety of shapes, says the ETH. The variety of shapes is similar to 3-D printers, he said. Any conceivable shape can be designed on the computer and fed into the robot. This implements the digital template as a steel grid. This saves material for the formwork and the forms can be calculated so that only a minimum of building material is used.

The grid-welding robot is not the only digital technology that will be used. Ceilings are produced by 3D printing. The wooden elements of the upper floor are made in the construction laboratory of the future
Made by assembly robots hanging from the ceiling.

Building a house without construction workers?

At the moment, there is no reason to fear that construction workers will be replaced by robots by the dozen when building houses. Because the "In Situ Fabricator" is a prototype and will not be mass-produced. Not yet! It is clear that robots will one day take over many functions in the construction of houses.
The extent to which humans will one day be replaced by "Bob the Robot" "cannot be predicted, as is always the case with technological change," says Matthias Kohler, ETH professor of architecture and digital fabrication. What is needed is no longer human muscle power, but "other human abilities such as creativity and improvisational skills."

At the moment there are still many steps to be done by construction workers. But researchers are planning to have robots fill the concrete or plaster the walls as well. In three to five
years, the construction industry is to rely on robots for the prefabrication of larger construction elements, is to be heard on the part of the ETH. When used on normal construction sites, you could imagine robots in 10 to 15 years, he said.

Long-term research program

The digitally fabricated house is the result of the first stage of an overall twelve-year research program at ETH. The world’s first house built entirely by robots and 3-D printers is now available to researchers as a 200-square-meter shelter. It goes without saying that the Dfab house then also has the latest features of a smarthome.

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