A need to address a lack of housing for the globe's growing population has turned up some eye-catching efforts, blending creative architecture with new, sustainable technologies. And it is increasingly looking like 3D printing could have a role to play. Italian firm Wasp is the latest to explore the potential of additive manufacturing in this area, developing a super-sized 3D printer capable of producing low-cost housing made from mud.
Mud brick homes aren't new, and have a certain appeal for the environmentally conscious due to their low carbon footprint and sustainable nature. Wasp is looking to bring these benefits to a bigger stage by providing a means to quickly create shelter in developing regions where traditional forms of construction might not be possible.
The company's mud-extruding dream builder stands around 20 ft tall (6 m) and is capable of printing structures 10 ft (3 m) in height. This puts it at around the same size as the printer used by a Chinese company earlier this year to construct 10 houses in less than 24 hours.
The idea behind Wasp's approach is the housing can be built on location, using materials found on site at zero cost. The printer can reportedly be built by two people in as little as two hours and can extrude materials ranging from mud to clay and other natural fibers. The company demonstrated the printer earlier this month at Rome's Maker Faire. While not a full scale model, at 4 m (13 ft) it was able to produce smaller versions of its mud brick dwellings and serve as a proof-of-concept.
"We will print a mixture made of clay and sand," CEO Massimo Moretti said leading up to the event. "It takes weeks to print a real house, so we will print a smaller building because we only have two days. But the print, the mixture and materials have been already tested and they’re working.”
The design for these structures is inspired by the mud dauber wasp, which build their nests using mud. As it turns out, the company's name doubles as an acronym for "World's Advanced Saving Project."
While it has exhibited the potential of its approach, Wasp is yet to detail exactly when it plans to begin deploying its 3D printers.