Mar 23, 2016 | By Alec
Various companies and startups around the world are already exploring 3D printing construction solutions, usually involving a concrete 3D printer. The idea is that this can not only greatly speed up customized production, but will also significantly reduce construction costs. But the founder of Brazilian startup Urban3D Anielle Guedes looks far beyond costs or customized, artistic housing. She has been dreaming about a completely different purpose: to use efficient 3D printing construction to combat the world’s growing slum problems.
For whatever way you’re looking at the situation, there’s certainly a growing slum problem. Thanks to economic realities and a population explosion that far exceeds society’s ability to provide adequate housing, medical care and employment, the population of slums is growing at a rapid pace. Right now, an estimated three billion people live in slums throughout the world – more than a third of the world’s population. That number is only set to grow to about five billion over the next 15 years. “We cannot continue in this situation, where so many people do not have a decent living standard, and minimal sanitation or running water. Without these, they never eat right, do not think of education, are unhealthy,” says Anielle Guedes. “All these issues are intrinsically linked to the home, which provides a core for human development.”
During a ten week course at Singularity University at NASA Ames, in California, Guedes therefore developed a very ambitious plan to use the latest technologies, such as 3D printing, to tackle one of the most pressing problems facing mankind – and she’s only 23 years old. However, she already has extensive experience in the human development field. She previously made a documentary on alternative education, studied Physics and Economics at the University of São Paulo, and has completed three postgraduate projects. She is also a regular speaker at international conferences, including from the UN, and recently won MIT’s “Innovator under 35 years” in the Brazil category.
Now she has obviously found her main focus: to eradicate homelessness within the next 15 years, through a high-tech approach to sustainable urban development and long term urban planning. “In the next 35 years we will have to build more infrastructure we have built in the last 3500 years and we have to do it faster, in a cheaper way and without destroying the environment, which means we have to find better and more efficient processes of building,” she explains.
And 3D printing, she argues, has the potential to be a housing game changer. “The current construction processes are slow and susceptible to failure. That is why we are bringing this industry to the XXI century by digitizing and automating construction. We aim to create a new process of building and develop new materials. Our goal is to 3D print concrete as our main building material without using metal reinforcement,” she says. Aside from being efficient, 3D printing is also much, much faster. This could reduce construction costs significantly (up to 80 percent), while using a new type of concrete made from recycled composites is already 30 percent cheaper than conventional concrete – especially because all material is used.
The first target is Brazil, because the developer is Brazilian herself, but she is already nourishing a very international perspective: “We will go where we find opportunity”. And that could be necessary, as China, India and Nigeria together will account for 37 percent of global population growth already. For practical and financial reasons, Guedes is not providing too many details about how and when that construction will take place or what kind of 3D printer they will use. But she did imply that they would 3D print just about anything that can be made from concrete, based on pre-made molds, which will be assembled at a later date. Presumably, the 3D printer (likely a robotic arm setup) will be housed as close to the building site as possible.
But this isn’t just an ambitious dream, as Guedes has already turned her international network into a solid partnership. Due to confidential agreements, she won’t give any names, but she is currently working with three German companies (specialists in chemicals, robotics and heavy machinery, respectively), as well as with several Brazilian and American companies and institutes. The German chemical expert is working on sustainable concrete, while the others are working on the hardware and software development. While the Brazilian government, which is notorious for bureaucratic corruption, is not providing any official backing, the young innovator is certain that they won’t interfere either.
According to Guedes, the first research project is already taking shape. For this initial project, Urban3D is looking to create four five-story buildings in a few weeks’ time, which could cost up to 80 percent less than other similar buildings. The project could cost several thousand dollars, and will be the first time their robotic setup will be practically used. The idea is to use pre-formatted modules to build floors, beams and walls . “The next step is consolidation, as well as review them. We have to crystallize and realize our construction dreams, which will need continuous development and implementation of our technology,” Guedes says.
A prototype robot will be used for that project, but it will hopefully provide all the data necessary to complete the machines. To do so, it is of vital importance that the company does raise more capital over the coming years. They are currently receiving financial backing from a number of sources, but a national fund will run out at the end of the year. Guedes is therefore currently in talks with Brazilian partners, private funds and international investors. “There is a lot of resistance. Companies want to use the older methods that provide greater power. Our technology will move to a segment that is highly speculative,” she says.
But one thing is certain: Urban3D has the potential to change the world, and is nearing completion. “We are currently into the completing phase for our prototypes, and we hope it will lead to the deployment of our materials and winning our first customers. We hope to reach tens of thousands of people in the coming years with this winning 3D printing technology,” the ambitious developer concludes.
Posted in 3D Printer Company
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