By Ashini K Ekanayake
Danish Design companies GXN Innovation, research architects at 3XN, The Danish AM Hub and Map architects have come together to envision the future of environment restoration in the form of autonomous, roaming 3D printing robots. This project has been dubbed “ Break-the-Grid”.
The reason this seemingly sci-fi like solution has surfaced is due to prevalent threats to the condition of the environment due to climate change, such as the erosion of the coastline as well as deterioration of infrastructure. The Danes proposed a solution which involves providing 3D printers with the ability to move and act autonomously through the land, air, and even the sea. By doing so, these environmental threats can be tackled with greater efficiency at a lower cost.
The three parties have come up with 3 different designs to tackle each environment. The unifying trait between all three designs is that they are all meant to autonomously scan the environment, identify problem areas and act to fix them. For instance, one of the designs for these 3D printers allows it to move underwater and tackle ocean-based threats, such as protecting coastlines from erosion, and to provide more habitats to marine creatures.
This is in light of the great bleaching of the great barrier reef, which has led to the widespread loss of biodiversity. It would do so by extruding a mixture of ocean-floor sand, glue inspired by an oyster-produced natural adhesive, and a wet-setting binder. On the other hand, the land-based prototypes will involve a six-legged robot scuttling through cities, spotting and repairing micro-cracks in concrete. By detecting these small cracks earlier, they can be fixed before even more oxygen and water seep in, worsening the corrosion.
These land-based bots are envisioned to 3D print a porous filler mixed with the fungus trichoderma reesei, which promotes the formation of calcium carbonate, effectively making the material self-healing. The remote printers could also patrol concrete infrastructure remote from urban environments, making it more resource friendly since less manpower can be relied on to go out of their way for architectural maintenance.
The final prototype involves an air-based 3D printer in the form of an autonomous drone which can operate in the airspace around the tops of high-rise buildings. Their main function is to engage in the restoration of older and deteriorated buildings, conserving manpower and energy in the long run. This concept draws on new materials research that suggests that the drone can use a customizable composite of glass and polymers could be used to build thermal insulation onto existing structures.
Through these concepts, the design team hopes to inspire the rest of the world in developing sustainable and creative solutions in order to promote greater conservation of the environment.