It's a relatively modest task, but lead researcher Steven Keating wanted to demonstrate that the technology could be used right away.
“With this process, we can replace one of the key parts of making a building right now,” Keating said in a statement. “It could be integrated into a building site tomorrow.”
Keating's long-term plans are where things get interesting. Future versions of the system will employ ground-penetrating radar to find the best location for a structure. Additional sensors will assess the environment, adjusting the structure on the fly to account for angle of sunlight and prevailing winds.
The DCP extruder is designed to handle multiple materials at various densities, and can switch between materials in mid-construction. As such, the robotic system could erect concrete walls with windows of transparent plastic, then add further insulating and finishing materials. If all goes according to plan, the team's predictive analyses show that DCP construction would be faster, safer and less expensive than any current construction methods.
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The DCP concept has potential applications outside of traditional construction, as well. For example, DCP units could be dropped into disaster areas to assemble temporary shelters within hours. The system could also be adapted for underwater use, to build synthetic coral reefs using materials scooped from the seafloor.
Then there's that interplanetary angle.
The ultimate vision is “in the future, to have something totally autonomous, that you could send to the moon or Mars or Antarctica, and it would just go out and make these buildings for years,” said Keating.
No word yet on alien defense technology, but hey — it's just a prototype.