Architects and roboticists in Zurich have combined forces to create the In-situ Fabricator, a bricklaying robot able to act autonomously and learn on the job. According to Matthias Kohler, contributing researcher at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, the In-situ is “the first machine that can actually go on construction sites and build non-standard designs, meaning designs which can vary and adapt to the local conditions directly in the building site.” If In-Situ Fabricator and machines like it can be mass produced at an affordable price, this robotic technology could result in a disruptive paradigm shift in the construction industry.
The team is excited to pursue this project because of the unique challenges and opportunities in designing for a construction site. Such a setting is “somewhere in between the completely planned and controlled environment of a factory or a lab floor, and the completely chaotic environment of outdoors,” says researcher Jonas Buchli. Resembling a brontosaurus, the robot consists of a mobile base, around which a mechanical arm moves while sensors construct a 3D map of the site. This expansive mobility and knowledge of its environment allows In-situ to move about the construction site with ease.
With In-Situ, the architect “can really design the construction directly,” rather than having to waste time converting designs based on site specifics. This ability “changes the paradigm of how you design and build quite fundamentally,” says Kohler. However, he acknowledges concerns from laborers who might fear economic obsolescence. “I think this will become a game-changer in construction, I believe so. I think that in the next five to ten years we are going to see mobile robots on the construction site, but they’re not going to replace humans. They’ll actually collaborate with humans, so the best of each kind of skills come together.”
Whether these new building machines become a useful tool or a fierce competitor to human labor remains to be seen.
Images via dfab