Icon wants to revolutionize residential construction with a “3D printing robot”, explains the CEO


A crowd of people gathered on the grass next to a college in East Austin, Texas on a sunny March afternoon, most of them staring at the house across the street. The striking construction, with undulating curved walls made of layers of cement, stands out from the mix of old and new houses that make up the gentrifying neighborhood.

The property dubbed “House Zero” was built by Icon, a company seeking to revolutionize the home building industry. Icon CEO Jason Ballard says 3D printing will make homes more affordable and beautiful.

“3D printing and robotic construction actually allow us to do a lot of things that we probably should have done all along and wish we could have done but were too expensive until now,” Ballard told Yahoo. Finance during a conversation in the living room of House Zero. Hall. “We want all houses to be beautiful. We want all homes to be comfortable and have good energy performance and sustainability. We want all homes to have resilience. But generally, these goals are very difficult to achieve with conventional construction methods. »

Indeed, the three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home is “beautiful”: the layered curves, left like raw concrete inside and out, have an organic feel. Designed as a show home, it features Douglas fir accents and high-end finishes, fixtures and appliances.

The exterior of the house zero to three bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms. Credit: Icon

The walls of House Zero were built in 10 days with the Vulcan, a 9,500 pound 3D printing robot that Icon brought to the site. Ballard said the method saves labor and materials, and the curved walls, in addition to being aesthetically pleasing, add strength.

The curves, he said, “add structure and strength to the wall. So if I had a piece of paper and held it upright, it would fall. But if I bent the paper, it would stand up. This would add strength without any additional reinforcement or change in material properties. The actual wall system you see printed, having that wall system replicated with conventional construction methods would have doubled the cost of the wall system.

Icon has built other residences, including cottages in Tabasco, Mexico, in cooperation with a non-profit organization; a four-home development in East Austin; and barracks at Camp Swift about 40 miles southeast of Austin.

The company is about to embark on its most ambitious project – a 100-home community in the Austin area built in cooperation with homebuilder Lennar. They plan to innovate later this year.

For Ballard, this is just the beginning.

“We need to build millions of homes, and I hope that in my lifetime neighborhoods and then towns and eventually cities will be built by robots and drones,” he said. “And I think that future will be faster, more affordable, with more design freedom.

Julie Hyman is the co-presenter of Yahoo Finance Live, weekdays 9-11 a.m. ET. Follow her on Twitter @juleshymanand read his other stories.

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