Geo Week News

June 24, 2015

Robots Can 3D Print Bridges Now


This blog post isn’t about scanning bridges and then creating 3D models of them, it’s about printing the bridges themselves. Joris Laarman, a Dutch designer, has designed a bridge to be 3D printed by robotic arms. It’s going to be placed at an undisclosed location in Amsterdam and will be for pedestrian use only.

What’s going to hold the robots? The bridge itself, which will be strong enough to hold the robots as they complete their work.  

“This bridge will show how 3D printing finally enters the world of large-scale, functional objects and sustainable materials while allowing unprecedented freedom of form,” said Laarman. “The symbolism of the bridge is a beautiful metaphor to connect the technology of the future with the old city, in a way that brings out the best of both worlds.”

This new project wouldn’t be possible without a previous idea of Laarman: 3D printing arms that can “draw” metal in the air.

Again, the bridge is for pedestrian use only, but it does raise some questions about what’s possible with 3D printing once you bring it outside of a tiny box. If we can print a bridge for people, it hints at the possibility of printing a bridge for cars or trains. Or printing piping for an offshore rig. There are probably thousands of ways this technology could be leveraged by architects, engineers, construction companies, design firms, DOTs, and more.

Surely there are challenges remaining, but I never thought I’d see someone 3D print a bridge in mid-air, so I’m feeling optimistic that some genius out there will solve them.

This news also hints that some of the structures we design in the future might look different simply because they’ll be designed to support the weight of the robots 3D-printing them. I’m no expert at building bridges, but I imagine that Laarman designed those fractal-like supports as a way to cantilever the bridge out over the water without collapsing. Will that sort of design become commonplace?

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