Tiny Robots Might 3D-Print Tomorrow’s Skylines

A group of creators at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) have adapted modern robotics to the 3D-printing industry to create the Minibuilders, a group of three separate robots that work together to produce additive 3D-printing on a large scale.

The Minibuilders are a three-stage system. The first stage is the Foundation Robot, which uses tracks and a line-following sensor to build the — you guessed it – foundation of the structure. Its 3D-printing nozzle can slowly ascend to allow for the increasing height of the foundation.

The second stage is the Grip Robot. It grips onto the foundation and continues the printing process once the Foundation Robot can print no higher. It is responsible for creating the windows, walls and ceiling of the building. A major part of what makes the Grip Robot’s job possible is its built-in heater, which solidifies the walls super fast so they can continue supporting the robot’s grip.

The final stage is taken care of by the Vacuum Robot. Once the basic structure is there, it needs to be reinforced if it’s going to amount to anything more than a pile of 3D-printed goop. The Vacuum Robot attaches itself to the outside of the building with a suction cup and a vacuum generator, giving it the power to move freely all over the place and reinforce the walls and ceiling by printing freeform, non-parallel patterns. Like the icing on a cake, this is the stage that brings the 3D-printed building to a whole new level.

The Minibuilders not only make larger 3D-printed buildings possible, but the freeform approach makes it the ultimate mobile building system. No more large contracting teams creating houses out of termite food. One person, a laptop and a couple robots can make anything from a yurt to a mansion — anywhere in the world (if there’s enough 3D-printing material). Now our dream mansion on that deserted island from Pirates of the Caribbean isn’t as impossible as it seems.

The project was developed by IAAC students Shihui Jin, Stuart Maggs, Dori Sadan and Cristina Nan, who were advised by IAAC faculty Saša Jokić and Petr Novikov. To see the robots in action, check out the Minibuilders site here.