AI SpaceFactory works to reduce our dependence on energy-intensive materials such as cement and steel by 3D-printing using renewable materials.
Area of Research: Architecture, Engineering, and Construction
Architecture and technology firm AI SpaceFactory believes the technologies they are developing for Mars will have a profound impact on how we build on Earth.
By 3D-printing using renewable materials, the team hopes to one day reduce Earth’s dependence on energy-intensive materials such as cement and steel, which contributes significantly to carbon emissions in their production process.
The New York-based company, who recently won 1st place in NASA’s 3D-Printed Space Habitat Competition, joined the Residency Program at the Autodesk Technology Center in Boston to explore design and construction outside of earthly confines. With the support of Autodesk and the workshop staff, the team worked on 3D-printing and constructing three sub-scale prototypes nicknamed the ‘tub’.
Autodesk set the team up with a large ABB robot and a 55-lb thermoplastic extruder, plus members of the workshop staff taught them the basics of 3D-printing. They spent the first few weeks of their residency conducting basic tests of their biopolymer, which is the future foundation of their Mars habitat. This is what AI SpaceFactory considers to be their key innovation. They formulated this biopolymer (PLA) based on recyclable and biodegradable substances that would be available on Mars. According to an AI SpaceFactory press release, they had this material validated by a third-party lab to test for factors such as compression strength, durability, insulation, plus more.
After basic testing of the material, the team moved onto 3D-printing the ‘tub’, a large cylinder designed to hold twelve-hundred gallons of water complete with prefabricated wall penetrations. The pipes inside the tub were robotically picked and placed as the prototype was printing. This 3D-print was completed in 24-hours at the Technology Center in Boston. Unfortunately, during the print, they ran out of material to print the crucial third layer to seal the structure, so it was unable to hold water. However, team members still took this opportunity to climb into the structure.
Despite the many challenges that remain with advancing their skills in 3D-printing with proprietary material and robotic construction, the team is thankful for the help and support from organizations such as Autodesk and the Virginia Tech Center for Design Research. AI SpaceFactory’s CEO David Malott summed up his experience in the Residency Program as such: “At the risk of sounding cliché, the highlight of the program isn’t the robots or the software, but the BUILD staff.”
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