At USC's Viterbi School of Engineering, professor Behrokh Khoshnevis is pioneering a process called Contour Crafting which could lead to 3D printed buildings in the next two years. Like many at-home 3D printers Contour Crafters will extrude materials one layer at a time based on the specifications of CAD files. Unlike traditional 3D printers the Contour Crafters will be capable of laying down all the electrical, plumbing and air-conditioning conduits that are needed, as well as placing electronic sensors to monitor the building's temperature and stability over time.
Khoshnevis envisions something that looks remarkably like a desktop 3D printer except the build platform will be good old-fashioned terra firma. The Contour Crafter will run on giant tracks which move the extruder around according to the architectural plans. Khoshnevis even imagines that one day developers could sell standard plans and individuals could use CAD programs to modify those plans and create the house of their dreams.
Unfortunately, the technology is still going to need some fine tuning before Khoshnevis and his team can go out and print a house. One area that still needs work is the creation of fast drying concrete. Khoshnevis is working with German materials company, Degussa to test out powder-based formulas which will dry as soon as they are extruded. All told, Khoshnevis thinks it will take a few more years to get the project off the ground. Once it works the researchers from USC believe this technology could be used to produce pop-up emergency shelters, low-income housing or a lunar landing base.
If you'd like to know more about the Contour Crafting project you can watch professor Khoshnevis give a TED talk on the subject below.