We've seen 3D printers used for everything from iPhone cases to makeshift weapons, but if you think bigger, what can these new printers really be used for? Could you really make your own house with a 3D printer in less than 20 hours? Turns out you can, and the technology is now set to be used by NASA for a future Moon colony.
The man behind this ambitious housing project is Professor Behrock Khoshnevis, and he's disgusted that in the 21st century, the world is still ridden with poverty-stricken slums characterised by make-shift corrugated iron shacks. He wanted to find a way to improve the basic concept of house construction so that it was accessible to everyone, because with better shelter comes a more civilised society.
To build a house right now, you're looking at a slow, labour-intensive, dangerous process that's almost always over-budget. Professor Khoshnevis said that housing construction is one of the only industries that still does things manually, unlike the motoring or technology industries for example that use automated production methods to complete routine construction tasks.
So how do you fix a slow, expensive housing concept that has been set in stone for the last few centuries so that everyone around the world can get access to it? That's easy, Professor Khoshnevis says. You use 3D printing.
Khoshnevis is heavily involved in computer-aided design (CAD), robotics and rapid prototyping with the University of Southern California, and he's using that experience to scale up 3D printing so that it can be used in housing construction.
"I name this process Contour Crafting, which is essentially a way of streamlining the process by benefiting from the experience we have gained in the domain of [automated and technology-assisted] manufacturing," he told TEDxOjai attendees earlier this year.
Khoshnevis wants to build entire neighbourhoods with Contour Crafting, and he claims it can be done at a fraction of the cost in a smaller block of time.
As far as expenses go, the materials for the 3D printed house are projected to cost 25 per cent less than traditional houses and labour costs can be cut in half. In terms of timing from start to finish, Khoshnevis said that "we anticipate that an average house, like 2500 square foot house, can be built in about 20 hours from a custom design".
Here's how it works. A CAD design is sent to a large-scale 3D printer that is mounted to a block of land. The printer lays out the concrete-like foundation of the home through a nozzle that can move anywhere on the property. Like any 3D print-out, the house is made layer-by-layer and reinforced with various materials — like electrical, plumbing and communication infrastructure — as the build progresses.
The concrete used is a mixture of concrete and fibre polymers, meaning that it is more than three times stronger than traditional concrete used in today's houses. The concrete that goes into your house right now can withstand roughly 3000 pounds per square inch of pressure, while the new printed concrete can withstand around 10,000 pounds per square inch.
The best thing about the construction process, Khoshnevis added, is that it can print out any house design you like. Curved walls? No problem. Water feature in your front yard? Can do. Custom tile design and a few feature walls? Simple, thanks to the addition of laser jet printer nozzles attached to the printing array.
As if that's not impressive enough, Professor Khoshnevis' concept is currently being supported by NASA so that the space agency can one day be used to build a colony on the Moon. You read it right, the Moon.
This is the future I want to live in. One where I can print out my own house in less than a day, for half the cost, using the same technology NASA is using on the moon. I want to go to there. [TEDxOjai via Reddit]