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Dublin: 8 °C Sunday 19 January, 2020

Robot builders and homes on Mars: How ready are you for the high-tech houses of the future?

From an automated mason to a radiation-blocking ice house in space.

Image: Shutterstock/Corona Borealis Studio

FROM GETTING TO work via flying car to 3D-printing your dinner, there are a lot of ways that tech could change your life in the future. But how likely would you be to adopt these tech advances, and to make them a part of your daily routines?

In a new series, Future Real, we’re partnering with Volkswagen to spotlight technologies of the future, with a different theme each time. As you read, we’ll ask you to rate how likely you’d really be to give each piece of tech a try.

This week: how on board are you with the home-building innovations of the future?

Since time began, our homes have been built by human hands, sometimes with skills and craftsmanship that one wouldn’t even believe human hands could create.

Think of Notre Dame in Paris, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or even the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona – the intricate detail involved in their construction makes it almost impossible to believe that human hands did create them. And yet, could you imagine robots in hard hats taking on such architectural tasks? 

That level of robot involvement might not become reality in our lifetimes, but technology is certainly hitting the building sector in big ways.

From giant 3D printers that can produce cement homes in 24 hours, to building robots that can stack concrete six times faster than the most skilled human mason, these are the new building technologies of the future.

Are you ready for the future of home building? 

1. Hand your blueprints to a robot builder

By the time our great-great-grandchildren are born, it could be less about Bob the Builder and more about robot builders SAM or Hadrian.

In the last few years, robotics companies have begun testing their innovations, preparing them for future building sites. Australian company FBR completed a concrete block three-bedroom home thanks to robot Hadrian X in late 2018 – and it did so in less than three days, according to tech site The B1M. 

Meanwhile, building robot SAM (short for semi-automated mason) from Construction Robotics has already been hard at work on building sites in the United States. SAM is designed to work in collaboration with a mason, but can lay bricks six times faster than a human – up to 3000 bricks a day! Of course, one of the benefits of a brick-laying robot is the reduced need for humans to lift, and therefore hopefully a reduction in injuries lifting heavy bricks can cause. 

Ready to see speedy robots lifting concrete blocks? 

Future of Home Building

How likely would you be to choose a robot bulding company for your new home, 10 being very likely? 

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2. Live in a super-durable 3D printed home 

3D printing technology has been around for a while now, but most of us envision desktop versions that could only be used to print small models. However, much larger 3D printers are actually being used already to print bigger objects – including full homes. 

While you’re not likely to find a 3D printed mansion anytime soon, Texas-based start-up Icon has a printer that is able to print concrete homes of up to 2000 square feet. Business Insider reported recently that the first 3D printed housing development is well on its way in a rural community in Mexico, using Icon’s printer, which is large enough to print a concrete home of up to 2000 square feet.

The 3D homes in the new development in Tabasco, Mexico, are 500 square feet and are built from layers of cement that are stacked like icing. This cement, however, is so strong that it can withstand extreme weather conditions and is considered stronger than traditional building materials. After the cement structure is printed, finishing elements are added last, such as windows and doors, and the homes will protect residents from pests like mosquitos, which can carry deadly disease. 

Tiny homes are considerably more cost effective to 3D print, with estimates ranging from €4000 – €10000, and the printing process only takes 24 hours. 

3D printed homes are not a widespread phenomenon, but with the rise in popularity of tiny homes and the low cost of production, they may well become more common over the next decade as we’re looking for housing that can better withstand the weather. 

How likely would you be to move into a 3D printed home if it meant more protection from the elements? 

Future of Home Building

How likely would you be to move to a 3D printed home for added protection, 10 being extremely likely?

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3. Move into a maintenance-free shipping container

One of the considerable drawbacks of 3D printed homes is that they require a large printer – Icon’s printer, Vulcan II, weighs 3,800 pounds and looks like a small airplane hangar. But shipping container homes take that element out of the equation. 

Shipping containers are ubiquitous, whether it’s near a port or on a highway, you’re bound to see them throughout the day. Their use as building materials only started in the last decade, and countries like the Netherlands have brought the modular option to the mainstream for uses like student housing. 

In Ireland, shipping container homes haven’t experienced similar popularity quite yet, but they could be the building material of the future. A single shipping container might run you €1500 – €3000, but turning an empty shipping container, from planning permission to all the fittings, can add a range of costs. 

Cube Homes, based in Ringsend in Dublin, is now offering converted shipping container homes or offices of just over 300 square feet, completed in 12 weeks. The starting price is listed at €55,000, but that includes insulation, storage facilities, fridge, freezer, oven, dishwasher, washing machine and fitted bathroom facilities.

A few added bonuses? The exterior of a Cube home is an acrylic render that will need no future maintenance, the entire home is electric, bringing down fossil fuel costs, and the roof is so sturdy you could even plant a garden on it. It’s certainly affordable and sustainable, as housing goes. 

How likely would you be to purchase a converted shipping container? 

Future of Home Building

How likely would you be to purchase a converted shipping container home, 10 being extremely likely? 

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4. Head for an ice home on Mars

Mars is the next frontier when it comes to space travel, but the destination proves quite challenging for sustaining human life. Because Mars is so far away, NASA is researching ways astronauts might be able to live on Mars while they research the planet and its environment. 

If astronauts are years from landing their feet on Mars, our generation probably isn’t going to be buying real estate there anytime soon. But what might housing look like on the distant planet for potential future generations? The Mars Ice House, NASA’s current housing idea, looks a bit like an igloo, and will be covered in a protective sheet of ice, according to Science Alert

One of the keys to the design is that it needs to be easily transported, so NASA engineers have dreamed up an inflatable inner-tube like structure that is lightweight and can be constructed using – you guessed it – robots, before humans arrive. 

The NASA team needed to design a structure that could protect humans from the high levels of radiation on Mars, and it turns out a thick layer of ice should do the trick. 

So, are you wishing you could pack your bags for your Mars igloo? 

Future of Home Building

How likely would you be to move to Mars if it were a possibility, 10 being extremely likely? 

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 The future is nearer than you think. Pre-book the all-electric Volkswagen ID.3 1st online at Volkswagen.ie/ID.

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