Contour Crafting: 3D House Printer

Perhaps you've used those programs that let you design your dream house, creating a Computer Aided Design (CAD) file. Not quite ready to take up the hammer and start building? Can you imagine a device large enough to let you "print" your house right straight from the drawings?

Behrokh Khoshnevis (USC Engineering) has been perfecting his contour crafter. The material used is a semi-liquid quick-setting, concrete-like compound. The system is able to make calls to onsite experts for insertion of plumbing and wiring as the construction effort proceeds.

Contour Crafting House Behrokh Khoshnevis

House construction is an incredibly wasteful process. It is estimated that builders in the United States generate approximately 31 million tons of construction waste, almost one-quarter of the total municipal solid waste stream in the United States. Khoshnevis claims that contour crafting could substantially reduce these numbers.

Dr. Khoshnevis' goal?

"The goal is to be able to completely construct a one-story, 2000-square foot home on site, in one day and without using human hands."

This robot takes instructions from a CAD drawing and then squirts layers of semi-liquid construction material to build up vertical walls and domed roofs. The device runs on tracks that enclose the proposed structure like a container ship crane. The first house is scheduled to be built in 2005. [Note: April, 2007 is the announced date.]

There are a couple of science fiction tie-ins for this idea. For a hotel that puts itself together (albeit brick-by-brick) see Bambakias Hotel, from Bruce Sterling's 1998 novel Distraction. Another interesting idea that uses a similar technique on a small scale is nanofax, from William Gibson's 1999 novel All Tomorrow's Parties: this item has an extensive discussion of stereolithography, a method of rapid prototyping that is the direct ancestor of contour crafting.

Khoshnevis has plans for the Moon as well:

"We plan to explore the applicability of the CC technology for building habitats on the Moon and Mars...

The lunar regolith, for example, may be used as the construction material. Other researchers have shown that lunar regolith can be sintered using microwave to produce construction materials such as bricks. We envision a Contour Crafting system that uses a limited amount of water to form a small batch of the lunar material into paste form. Once extruded and deposited in the desirable location, the water could be extracted and recycled for the next batch of material. Microwave sintering using solar power can be integrated into the system and hence progressively cured structures of various complexities could be built."
(Automated Construction using Contour Crafting - Applications on Earth and Beyond)

Update 01-Feb-2007 See also this follow-up article: Contour Crafting House Printer Nears Test. (End Update.)

Update 01-Feb-2014The earliest sf reference (not to mention the earliest reference period) that I know of for 3D printing is from Things Pass By, a 1945 story by Murray Leinster:

It makes drawings in the air following drawings it scans with photo-cells. But plastic comes out of the end of the drawing arm and hardens as it comes. This thing will start at one end of a ship or a house and build it complete to the other end, following drawings only.
(Read more about Leinster's Plastic Constructor)

(End Update.) For more details see Robot Builder could 'print' houses (NewScientist.com). Don't miss the very cool animation showing how it works: Animation of Contour Crafting in House Construction. Contour Crafting and Selective Inhibition of Sintering provides additional details and links.

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