Contour Crafting 3D Prints 2500 Square Foot Home in 20 Hours

contour crafting design

This is precisely what construction will look like with contour crafting in the near future.

Contour crafting is the name of a recent breakthrough in the engineering world combining construction and 3D printing technology. The end result is a robot that can 3D print homes in less than a day. The innovator behind contour crafting is Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and the Director of Manufacturing Engineering Graduate Program at the University of Southern California (USC).

At a TEDx speech in 2012 Khoshnevis presented the idea of contour crafting to an audience. He begins by reminding everyone of Maslow’s basic human needs, and points out that food and shelter are the foundations of our lives. Despite shelter being a basic human need, billions of people around the world live in slums, be it in underpopulated or overpopulated regions. Industries of every type, including agriculture, pharmaceuticals, weaponry, automotive, etc. implement a fleet of fully automated robotics to manufacture their products. Industries of every type, except the construction industry.

Related Article: 3D Printing: The Next Revolution in Creativity

contour crafting precision

Precision is the name of the game with contour crafting.

Despite modern day construction being slow, labor intensive, and inefficient, no serious technological revolution has ever occurred in the industry. Contour crafting has enough momentum and potential to change that once and for all.

Remember that lovely time in 2008 when the whole economy crashed and no one was laughing but the banks? What was the main cause of the crash again? That’s right, subprime mortgage loans; the devil himself. People couldn’t afford a home, so banks loaned these people exorbitant amounts of money, an amount they could never feasibly pay back. We know the rest of the story, but let’s revisit the beginning: People couldn’t afford a home. So many people around the world cannot afford one of the most basic human needs: a shelter. No wonder so many people end up renting property their entire lives. And those are the lucky ones. With the number of homeless people worldwide at 100 million in 2005, the world yearns for a construction revolution.

According to Khoshnevis, modern day construction is dangerous, wasteful, and due to the management process, highly corruptible. All of these factors contribute to inefficiency and a higher costs for homeowners and society as a whole. Contour crafting on the other hand cuts out the waste, danger, and human error by using only a CAD program and sophisticated robot to build a customized structure in less than 24 hours.

Related Article: The Singularity is Nigh Upon Us: The Merging of Humans with Technology

It’s obvious that an automated, robotic 3D printing system will make operations safer, quicker, and cheaper, but what is not obvious is the level of precision and customizable designs involved in contour crafting. Having direct access over the mind of the builder (the contour crafting robot) allows designers to delve into whole new avenues of creative architecture while still retaining optimal structural integrity.

contour crafting moon

Contour crafting on the moon is set in lunar stone.

Khoshnevis shows examples of houses featuring curved walls and exotic geometries with enough reinforcement to withstand high intensity earthquakes in Jordan. Need some extra support? It’s easy for a contour crafting robot to line the walls and foundation of the house with a steel mesh. This type of design would cost thousands more with traditional construction methods.

Printing these exotic designs will cost exactly the same as printing a traditional rectangular box shape home since it’s just a matter of changing the initial design. The building method, speed, and builder are always the same. Building costs will depend solely upon the material and size of the desired structure, not the design. Who knows, maybe contour crafting will one day become a new weekend expenditure. “We’ve had this house all week, let’s design and print a new one.”

Related Article: Dome Homes: Virtually Indestructible

Contour crafting builds structures in layers. The material the printers currently use is a concrete. This concrete is sprayed out of a nozzle in a desired pattern and overall shape. As the printer autonomously lays down the foundation and frame of the house, it simultaneously installs all of the plumbing, electricity, and structural reinforcements. Eventually contour crafting will also be able to handle tiling, carpeting, and even painting too. Literally every square inch of a finished house is accounted for. Check out the building process in the video below. It reminds me so much of building a house in the Sims computer game.

What’s more, due to the precision of the contour crafting printer the structural integrity of the concrete has a strength measured at 10,000 psi, compared to 3,000 psi in traditional concrete structures.

There is no reason the printers cannot use more sustainable materials like cob or adobe as well.  After all, NASA has funded a project that will implement contour crafting printers on the moon and Mars. 90% of the materials used in the lunar printer will be gathered from the moon itself with only 10% of construction materials coming from Earth.

We print houses now. Welcome to the future.




Of Cyborg Monkeys and New Hope for Amputees


The innovative breeze of 2013 carries a particularly interesting development in the field of Neuroscience.

A joint venture funded by DARPA, composed of a group of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, revealed promising results in a recent study when monkeys were successful in moving a robotic arm using solely the power of their mind.

The practical application and climax of this study, as if it weren’t exciting enough already, finally arrived this January, when a woman was able to operate an artificial arm in a wide range of angles using her brain alone.

Related Article: Robotic Legs Controlled by Your Brain

For the past 11 years researchers have been conducting a series of experiments involving the motor-cortex, a part of the brain which facilitates movement. A tiny electrode array was implanted in the motor cortices of monkeys, enabling the scientists to read neural activity in the form of electrical spikes. Using a model based approach, the scientists were able to calculate the desired instantaneous hand and arm direction based on the activity of a few hundred neurons.

Reading brain-activity enabled the scientists to accurately move the artificial limb in the correct direction and angle, exactly the way the brain normally signals a healthy flesh and blood arm. In this way they trained the monkeys to move the arms through biofeedback.

Related Article: Robotic Sense and Feel

The monkeys were chosen as test subjects due to their similar brain structure to humans. However, it can’t be helped but to wonder: What is the secret for convincing a monkey to operate a robotic arm? The answer is simple: Marshmallows.

By hanging the treat just out of the monkey’s reach, far enough so that they would need to use the robotic arm to reach it, scientists were able to “train” the monkeys in moving the robotic arm in a space and they were able to teach the monkeys to grip their treat.

The next question that comes to mind is how many monkey-arms were removed due to the experiment? Animal rights fighters – rest assured; No monkeys were hurt in the process.

Related Article: Bionic Hand That Can Feel

After a decade of data-mining, the scientists are ready to implant a brain computer interface (BCI), an electrode array, in 53 year old Jan Scheuermann who suffers from quadriplegia; completely paralyzed from the neck down. The outcome of a not-so-simple surgery was optimistic news to all.

For many amputees, lacking an arm does not necessarily mean the brain is damaged as well. The successful experiment described above makes it very easy for a person to control a prosthetic arm, as all that needs to be done is  to ‘think’ which way the arm should move, much in the same way you are operating the arm you are using to scroll down and read this article.

Jan’s reports of headaches quickly disappeared, and no sooner did she prove to be able to feed herself, and even high-five Professor Andrew B. Schwartz, a senior figure in the research. According to Jan, feeding herself was:

One small nibble for a woman, one giant bite for BCI.

While the results of the research are certainly a breakthrough, leaving neuroscientists to fantasize about a world of possibilities opening up, major flaws cannot be ignored.

Implanting the electrode array requires invasive surgery, involving a temporary removal of part of the skull. The degree of control created by the invasive BCI (Brain Computer Interface) is limited by the number of neurons recorded, currently at a few hundred. Non-invasive methods of reading brain signals, such as EEG, offer a much lower information rate and require much more training.

Another flaw that is evident by observing Ms. Scheuermann’s arm movement is a poor eye-arm coordination. Neuroscientists are still looking for a reasonable explanation for Ms. Scheuermann inability to catch a falling object while observing it. Curiously enough, she is able to do so when not looking directly at the object.

Regardless of those facts, the sweet taste of success should not be bittered: this is still the first time a human has been able to operate a robotic arm in so many degrees of freedom, using only the power of the mind.

So what’s next? Killer-coding-ninja monkeys using telepathy? Anyone?


NYTimes: Monkeys Think, Moving Artificial Arm as Own

Lancet: Nueroprosthetic Control by Individual with Tetraplegia 

Invasive BCI UPMC: Woman with Quadraplegia Feeds Herself

Nature: Cortical Control of a Prosthetic Arm for Self-Feeding

Killer Coding Ninja Monkeys


Wondergressive: The Singularity is Nigh Upon Us

Wondergressive: Robotic Sense and Feel

Wondergressive: Bionic Hand That Can Feel

Wondergressive: Robotic Legs Controlled by Your Brain

Robotic Sense and Feel

As you may have already noticed, us writers of Wondergressive are obsessed with robots, and when new news of robotic improvements surface, you better believe that we are reading about those new developments with both vigor and ecstasy. Most of the time.

Anyway, there was early talk of a bionic hand that can feel and transmit the sense of touch to the user. It is being developed later this year so it seems the technology is finally surfacing! Amazingly, the bionic hand is getting an additional upgrade: it will soon be able to dig in your pocket (get your mind out of the gutter) to find the right amount of change needed for the toll booth you are sitting at. Soon, very soon.

Researchers of the Healthcare Robotics Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology have created and successfully used a robotic arm which identifies items based on how each object feels. This new robot can maneuver around an area to reach a certain goal; even when lightly coming in contact with structures or objects the robot simply redirects its movement to get to the goal. The idea is to allow the robot to move without too much force when coming in contact with humans at a workplace, or when searching for an item that is out of the robot’s viewpoint. In this way, the robot does not have to be completely careful and can still gently come in contact with objects. Without damaging anything, it can then continue its work by redirecting its movements.

With this new robotic arm, robots could potentially be used to assist the elderly and handicapped in daily routines. Or what about those dangerous and sensitive rescue missions that need delicate care and specific precautions? Robots everywhere!

The best part? The researchers have made the robot’s “feel” skin as well as the robot’s software open source and readily available for all others working on and interested in robotics.

So why not move forward with this technology to better our lives? Why not find ways to better our AI counterparts? Why not become cyborgs that don’t feel emotion, are as strong as Metallo with evil intent, and (matrix spoiler) enslave our fellow human breatherin after a grueling war of humans and AI where the sun is blotted out in order to stop the machines from getting energy from the sun but it backfires and we humans lose the war only to become the machines’ new source of energy? Okay maybe not any of that cyborg spiel but instead the creation of a real bicentennial man.

As before and always thereafter, the singularity is nigh upon us!




Reaching in clutter with whole arm tactile sensing

Healthcare Robotics Lab at Georgia Tech

Wondergressive: Bionic Hand That Can Feel

Wondergressive: The Singularity is Nigh Upon Us

Wondergressive: Kid Allergic to Everything Attends School

Wondergressive: Cyborg Lobsters Power a Digital Watch

Wikipedia: Metallo

Bicentennial Man

Kid Allergic to Everything, Attends School Via a Mobile Robot

Devon Carrow’s allergies are so severe that simply being around other children can be life threatening.  He spends nearly all of his time in isolation, and subsists on a diet of corn, apples and carrots.  And yet, he attends school every single day.

Devon sends a robot to school equipped with HD cameras and other useful gizmos in his place.  His robot is called a roboswot, or a VGO robot, and it is designed to allow Devon to go to school without actually, you know, dying. The robot costs approximately $6000 dollars and an additional $1200 per year for routine maintenance, which is still far less than, say, university tuition.

The roboswot allows Devon to interact with his class mates, move from classroom to classroom, and even comes equipped with an LED light that he can use in place of raising his hand.

Devon might be allergic to life, but according to his mom,

he’s required to do everything every other kid does in the class


Self-Camouflaging Soft Robots


Researchers at Harvard have created the first self-camouflaging soft robot. The robot is mobile and has the ability to recognize the color of its environment and mimic the surrounding colors.  Using pumped microfluids, the robot is able to quickly hide itself within its environment.

The robot must be tethered to a central control system which pumps the liquids into its transparent body.  It is able to alter its colors with great specificity in approximately 30 seconds.

As the robot only costs $100 per unit to produce, it is a very cheap method for military operations requiring mobile stealth.

Of course, it will go to the military first.  I wonder when we will be able to implement this fluid adaptability in our cars.

Self-Camouflaging Soft Robot

self-camouflaging soft robot changing colors A self-camouflaging soft robot

Researchers at Harvard have created the first self-camouflaging soft robot. The robot is mobile and has the ability to recognize the color of its environment and mimic the surrounding colors.  Using pumped microfluids, the robot is able to quickly hide itself within its environment.

The self-camouflaging soft robot must be tethered to a central control system which pumps the liquids into its transparent body.  It is able to alter its colors with great specificity in approximately 30 seconds.

As this amazing self-camouflaging soft robot only costs $100 per unit to produce, it is a very cheap method for military operations requiring mobile stealth.

Of course, it will go to the military first.  I wonder when we will be able to implement this fluid adaptability in our cars.




SciTechDaily: DARPA & Harvard’s Soft, Self-Camouflaging Robot

Soft Robots Grip Things Gently

Researchers at Harvard University have created a robot tentacle that has a soft touch. It can grab objects with delicate care. The robot tentacle allows for flexibility and a myriad of directional possibilities. This particular robot is one in a series of robots being developed at Harvard. It can manage objects as fragile as flowers, and I’m thinking, what lovely lady wouldn’t love her flowers delivered by a nice compliant robot tentacle?

The future is looking pretty lithe if you ask me.