(Phys.org) -- Researchers from the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia have built a programmable robot arm with a nozzle for a hand that allows for building structures out of sand mixed with water and binding agents, using a 3D printing technique. The result, called the Stone Spray Robot, was built by architects Inder Shergill, Anna Kulik and Petr Novikov, and is a part of the Stone Spray Project, whose purpose is to illustrate the concept of making habitual structures from earth friendly materials.
The team from the autonomous north-eastern community of Spain, has set for themselves the mission of developing ways to build modern human abodes in ways that fit more naturally with the environment. Their robot arm builds structures by continuously spray painting material over and over again, building up as it goes, like an ink jet printer with thicker ink. Currently, it lacks the ability to construct the backbone of a building, but its designers believe with further research, new versions of their arm will be able to create livable structures from the simplest of ingredients. In the near term, such an arm could conceivably be used to build portable shelters for people in disaster areas, but long term is another matter. The team would like to see the elimination of hazardous building materials and a new focus on learning to cohabitate with nature, rather than destroying everything and then erecting sterile buildings out of materials created in a lab.
The structures that are produced currently have demonstrated they are capable of withstanding both wind and water, though thus far they are still quite tiny, more like works of art than buildings. On the other hand, the arm is powered solely by solar electricity.
To use the robot arm, the team first mixes the water and binding ingredients and holds them in a secondary storage unit that also holds sand that is poured in. Next the materials are gravity fed to the robot arm. The robot then uses compressed air to mix and spray the ingredients in patterns specified by instructions fed in from a laptop computer. The end product is a three dimensional rock-like sculpture.
Explore further: Socially-assistive robots help kids with autism learn by providing personalized prompts