Can Robots Solve Labor Crunch?

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Picture this: an apparatus that squirts building material (such as adobe or concrete) in a thin layer while automated trowels near the nozzle smooth and shape it almost simultaneously.

August 01, 2003

Berokh Khoshnevis, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California, thinks he just might have a solution to three critical housing issues: lack of skilled labor, low construction quality and job-site injuries. His answer? Robots.

Picture this: an apparatus that squirts building material (such as adobe or concrete) in a thin layer while automated trowels near the nozzle smooth and shape it almost simultaneously. That’s Contour Crafting, a process that uses a computer-guided robot to extrude and layer construction material until complete interior and exterior hollow walls emerge according to a computer-aided design plan. The machine then fills the hollow walls, all while traveling along an overhead gantry.

In a paper he co-authored with USC professor George Bekey, Khoshnevis explains his dream of applying it to housing: "Contour Crafting is a recent layered fabrication technology that has a great potential in automated construction of whole structures as well as subcomponents. Using this process, a single house or a colony of houses, each with possibly a different design, may be automatically constructed in a single run, imbedded in each house all the conduits for electrical, plumbing and air conditioning."

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