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Swiss robots planning to build houses using 3D printers

ETH Zürich, a university in Switzerland, has unveiled a plan to build a three-storey house – dubbed DFab House – using robots and 3D printing. (See video below.) 

Structural engineers and sustainability experts from ETH Zürich have teamed up with business partners on the project, which is designed to bring numerous building technologies from research labs into the real world.

The project is overseen by the National Centre of Competence in Research Digital Fabrication, and its architects, robotics specialists, and materials scientists. 

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ETH professor Matthias Kohler, founding director of the NCCR Digital Fabrication and the initiator of the DFab House, says: “Unlike construction projects that use only a single digital building technology, such as 3D printed houses, the Dfab House brings a range of new digital building technologies together.

“This allows us to use the advantages of each individual method as well as their synergies, and express them architecturally.”

Kohler adds that the variety of new construction technologies is what makes the DFab House a flagship project for digital construction.

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Construction is taking place at a facility called Nest, the modular research and innovation building that materials science institute Empa and research institute Ea-wag have built on their campus in Dübendorf to test new building and energy technologies under real-life conditions.

Nest offers a central support structure with three open platforms, where individual construction projects – known as innovation units – can be installed. Construction recently began on the DFab House.

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Kohler says the project has brought together academia and business, which will accelerating the development of the technology.

“We are convinced that this collaboration is worthwhile for both sides. An increasing number of Swiss companies, such as Erne, which is the general contractor for the DFab House and was previously involved in building the Arch_Tec_Lab at ETH Zürich, want to proactively use the opportunities of digital technologies – something that gives us great pleasure.”

Other ETH boffins involved with the DFab House include:

  • Prof Matthias Kohler, Chair of Architecture and Digital Fabrication
  • Prof Fabio Gramazio, Chair of Architecture and Digital Fabrication
  • Prof Benjamin Dillenburger, Chair for Digital Building Technologies
  • Prof Joseph Schwartz, Chair of Structural Design
  • Prof Robert Flatt, Institute for Building Materials
  • Prof Walter Kaufmann, Institute of Structural Engineering
  • Prof Guillaume Habert, Institute of Construction & Infrastructure Management
  • Prof Jonas Buchli, Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems

The boffins-turned-builders say digital technologies will also be used when the DFab House is inhabited from summer 2018.

Led by smart home company digitalStrom and in collaboration with several other Swiss companies, innovative smart home solutions and internet of things technologies will be also tested in the DFab House construction.

This includes devices and systems that communicate intelligently with one another and are capable of learning, and which control the building in a way that improves both energy efficiency and comfort.

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A partial computer image of the planned three-storey house, which will be built by robots using 3D printing