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MM: Robotic Home Building; Making Plastic From Plants

In this Manufacturing Minute episode, robots take on the housing market and a new process to make renewable plastic.

Robotic Home Building

While there has been a lot of talk about robots taking on more manufacturing production roles, they may also be lining up to take a whack at the labor intensive home construction market.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been working on a construction robot that rolls on tank tracks and can 3D print a concrete dome structure in 14 hours. But they’re not stopping there. 

The team hopes to push the limits of the robot so that it is fully autonomous and able to roam around on its own, select and clear building sites, design homes, gather materials and complete construction without human intervention. 

By powering the robot with solar panels, the team envisions a machine that can be sent to a remote area where it will assess the landscape, then clear and prep the area for building. It will then come up with its own building designs specific to the building area, such as window and insulation placement for optimal thermal efficiency, or curving a wall to improve strength against high winds. 

While the prototype is currently only able to build an underlying dome structure, the team continues to work at it and hopes such an autonomous system could be sent to the Moon, Mars or Antarctica to make buildings for years. 


Is this a good idea to tackle building construction in remote locations? What about in more populous areas? Tell us what you think by leaving your comments below. 

A New Process To Make Renewable Plastic

Scientists from three universities believe they've come up with a way to make an important plastics chemical from plant material instead of fossil fuels.

And the results of their study could help make a wide range of industries less reliant on petroleum or natural gas.

The team from the universities of Delaware, Massachusetts and Minnesota said a recently-discovered catalyst successfully converted sugars from trees, grasses or corn into butadiene, an important precursor to materials used to make synthetic rubber and plastics.

Scientists converted the sugars into a compound using a two-step process, then processed that material with phosphorous all-silica zeolite β€” the new catalyst β€” to make renewable butadiene.

The process is relatively low-cost, and it converts the second compound to butadiene at a rate of more than 95 percent.

Researchers noted that butadiene is used to make tires, medical devices and hard plastics used in the tech, automotive and consumer product sectors.

The system could also significantly expand the types of molecules that could be produced using similar processes.


Could this technology help make plastics producers β€” and the industries that rely on them β€” more earth-friendly? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.