Jun 17, 2014

Minibuilders - coordinated small robots 3d printing big buildings

A research group at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (, based in Barcelona set on a goal of reelaborating 3D printing techniques so as to overcome existing limitations of this technique in large-scale.

The objective was to develop a family of small scale construction robots, all mobile and capable of constructing objects far larger than the robot itself. Moreover, each of the robots developed was to perform a diverse task, linked to the different phases of construction, finally working together as a family towards the implementation of a single structural outcome. Hence, instead of one large machine, a number of much smaller robots working independently, but in coordination, towards a single goal.

Currently there are three types of robots:
  • The first robot, the Base Robot, lays down the first ten layers of material to create a foundation footprint. Sensors mounted inside the robot control direction, following a predefined path. Traveling in a circular path allows for a vertical actuator incrementally adjust the nozzle height for a smooth, continuous, spiraling layer. 
  • To create the main shell of the final structure the second robot, the Grip Robot, attaches to the foundation footprint. Its four rollers clamp on to the upper edge of the structure allowing it to move along the previously printed material, depositing more layers. Controlled by custom software the robot follows a predefined path, but can also adjust its path to correct errors within the printing process. Rotational actuators control height above the previous layer to maintain a consistent layer
  • The data derived from the structural analysis is then translated into paths for the third and final robot, the Vacuum Robot. Using a vacuum generator this robot attaches to the surface of the previously printed structure. Moving freely over the first shell on its tracks, depositing material on the surface of the shell, enhancing its structural properties. This task can be performed by one robot, or a swarm of robots working in co-ordination.

Project homepage with more information:

Project credits:

Minibuilders is a project of IAAC, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia,
developed durning Open Thesis Fabrication in 2013 by:
Researchers: Shihui Jin, Stuart Maggs, Dori Sadan and Cristina Nan
Faculty: Saša Jokić and Petr Novikov
Sponsored by: SD Ventures