A Bridge To The Future: 3-D Printing Robots To Build Metal Footbridge Over Amsterdam Canal

The projects that 3-D printers are now capable of undertaking are vast, from organs to garments to housing.  The architectural aspects are proving to be fascinating new ways of creating structures, including some that might not be cost-effective or even physically feasible for humans to similarly construct...

Bots building beauty...coming soon!
(Image courtesy trueactivist.com.)

According to gizmodo.co.uk, a project is set to debut in Amsterdam that will prove 3-D printing can autonomously erect something way bigger and better than sweets or action figures of yourself.  In September, specialized 3-D printing robots will spend two months assembling a pedestrian footbridge, with no human hands needed in the actual labor.

Research and development company MX3D has designed a six-axis robot that can 3-D print vertically, horizontally, and diagonally, and not just in flimsy plastic.  Their 'bot is set to build a 24-foot footbridge using layers of molten metal.

Ornate metalwork: not just from human hands anymore!
(Image courtesy inhabitat.com.)

On the project's web page, MX3D researchers explained, "We research and develop groundbreaking, cost-effective robotic technology with which we can 3D-print beautiful, functional objects in almost any form...The ultimate test? Printing an intricate, ornate metal bridge for a special location to show what our robots and software, engineers, craftsmen and designers can do."

The MX3D bots will create rail supports and struts as it spins out the structure, making their own scaffolding into the design of the bridge as they work.  They will build as they go, with one or two robots working from each side of the bank to meet in the middle of the small canal, needing no foremen, laborers, or other human help to achieve its goal.

Several possible plans for the bridge design, all achievable by bot.
(Image courtesy dezeen.com.)

Of course, there are failsafes.  Autodesk software will allow human programmers to help out, if the robot is hindered by its exposure to the elements, unwieldly terrain, or any other troubles it may encounter in the wild.  If successful, the MX3D project could enable a construction boom for previously-difficult environments, possibly even including in a brutally hostile environment like the planet Mars.

We could send some MX3D bots up to Mars, then arrive to find
lovely wrought-metal enclosures all ready to protect our inflatable habitation units.
(Image courtesy inhabitat.com.)

Joris Laarman, who helped designed the MX3D robots as well as the architectural plans for the bridge, exulted to cnet.com, "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. 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."

And if those worlds could someday include ones other than our own, the 3-D printing revolution will have built something tremendous, indeed.

Check out this video for behind-the-scenes bridge-printing brilliance!

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