Giant robotic arm innovates construction with 3D-printed two-story houses

ICON Phoenix Multi-story Robotic Construction
The 27-foot Phoenix House, with its distinctive curves, is now on display in Austin, Texas. Images courtesy ICON

In an era where technology touches almost every aspect of our lives, the construction industry is witnessing a paradigm shift with the introduction of 3D printing technologies. Leading the charge is Texas-based Icon, a company that has recently unveiled its latest advancement in 3D construction printing technology – the Phoenix printer.

This new technology promises to streamline the construction process, making it faster, more cost-effective, and capable of creating multi-story concrete buildings, a significant leap from its predecessor, the Vulcan printer.

Icon’s journey in the 3D printing construction industry began at the SXSW festival in Austin in 2018, with the introduction of its first 3D-printed house. Since then, the company has become synonymous with innovation in the construction of 3D-printed structures, having built over 130 homes across the United States and Mexico.

Icon’s ambition doesn’t stop at residential buildings; it’s also part of a visionary NASA project to construct a model habitat on Mars and is developing technologies for Moon-based structures under Project Olympus. These endeavors underscore the company’s commitment to leveraging 3D printing technology for a variety of habitats, both on Earth and beyond.

ICON Phoenix Printer Robotic Construction Nozzle Concrete Mix
The nozzle of the robotic arm precisely extrudes a specialized concrete mix, layer by layer.

The Phoenix printer marks a significant advancement in Icon’s technology portfolio. Unlike its Vulcan counterpart, which is confined to a pillar and cross-beam setup, Phoenix boasts a large, free-moving articulated arm on a rotating base. This innovative design enables it to tackle larger and more complex construction projects, such as the 27-ft-high Phoenix House now on display in Austin, Texas. The printer’s mobility and ease of setup on different sites, combined with a reduction in the required number of operators, signify a considerable improvement in construction efficiency.

ICON Phoenix Printer Giant Robotic Arm
The Phoenix printer’s giant robotic arm effortlessly crafts structures with unparalleled precision.

One of the critical challenges in creating the Phoenix printer was maintaining the precision needed to construct livable, multi-story structures. Icon addressed this by developing a stabilization system that counters the potential sway caused by the printer’s own movements and environmental factors like wind. This system not only enhances the printer’s accuracy but also expands its capability to undertake more ambitious construction projects.

ICON Phoenix Printer Nozzle Stabilization System
The robotic arm’s innovative stabilization system ensures steady, accurate printing despite its own movements or environmental factors like wind.

Cost efficiency is another area where the Phoenix printer shines. According to Icon, this new printer can halve the construction costs achieved by the Vulcan model. Specifically, Icon estimates the cost to be about $25 per square foot for wall systems and $80 per square foot for complete structures, including foundations and roofs. This pricing model could lead to a reduction of approximately $25,000 for the construction of a typical American home, representing a significant saving for homeowners and investors alike.

Beyond the technological innovation of the Phoenix printer, Icon is also exploring the integration of artificial intelligence in construction through the release of Vitruvius, an AI-based system. This system is designed to democratize the home design process, allowing users to generate architecture, plans, and budget estimates swiftly. According to Jason Ballard, ICON’s Co-Founder and CEO, the future of construction will heavily rely on robotics and AI, aiming to reduce costs and construction times by half while simultaneously improving the quality of homes.

ICON Multi-story Robotic Construction Phoenix House
ICON says that their Phoenix printer dramatically reduces construction costs, promising savings of approximately $25,000 on a typical American home.

Ballard’s vision is for construction to not only be more efficient and affordable but also to create buildings that “more faithfully express the values and hopes of the people who live in them.” With the introduction of the Phoenix printer and Vitruvius system, Icon is paving the way for this future, showcasing the potential of 3D printing and AI in transforming construction into a more adaptive, efficient, and personalized process.

Source: Icon