A team of students at California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco has developed autonomous, mobile 3D printing robots that could some day be put to work building in outlying areas. The Swarmscapers, as the small robots are called, are capable of traversing difficult terrain and they work with found materials to build shapes and structures. Some day, these little robots could be used to construct entire buildings.

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Where 3D printing is concerned, the possibilities are practically endless, so it’s no surprise that researchers are now trying to find ways to link robotics and 3D printing to solve all kinds of real world problems. At CCA, a three-person student research team has been working on Arduino-powered robots that can use 3D printing to make, well, whatever they need. The students are focusing their efforts on enabling the robots to build on rough terrain, where traditional construction equipment might not be able to access or would have trouble operating correctly.

The project is called Swarmscapers and the developers are sharing the plans on Instructables. Interestingly, the students behind these robots are not engineers. They’re architecture students. Their research was conducted in the college’s Creative Architecture Machines studio, which is intended to help architects develop tools to bring their designs and ideas to life, rather than simply relying on pre-existing computer-aided design (CAD) software and other technologies.

Related: NASA to use giant 3D printing spider robots to construct huge spacecraft

The robots in question are a bit like ants. Each is pre-programmed with rules it must follow, but operates autonomously from the other bots in its “swarm.” Essentially, these robots are way more Wall-E than Johnny 5. These robots, though, also come loaded with a binding agent, so they can turn nearly any granular material (including sawdust, sand, or even rice) into the desired structure. The larger 3D prints conducted at CCA were done with reclaimed sawdust. The students identified this as the most eco-friendly option, since the college generates six dumpsters of the stuff each week. Smart move.

Via Architizer

Images via CCA.