MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Autonomous systems should be utilized for tasks that are “dull, dirty and dangerous” and a military construction site is all of those things. The United States Marine Corps is taking the lead to evaluate a system designed to make construction activities in remote areas not only faster and cheaper, but easier and safer than traditional methods.
Newly developed additive manufacturing techniques that include advancement in material science, robotics and easy-to-use software are making it possible to “print” buildings. Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) Advanced Manufacturing Operations Cell (AMOC), in partnership with Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), executed a prototype award to identify commercially available technology to accomplish this goal.
“Mobility, counter-mobility, survivability and rapid fortification of sites, both abroad and for training at home is a gap in current operations,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Smith with the 1st Marine Logistics Group. “Systems that can do this autonomously promise to support distributed operations of our men and women in uniform as well as potentially expand the impact of our global humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) efforts.”
The prototype system provides a capability that could transform expeditionary construction and HADR efforts. This construction technique is more efficient with respect to material used, power and fuel consumed, materials handling equipment/heavy equipment needed on site, number of personnel needed, and the lack of expertise needed to print a building versus traditional construction. This, in turn, will provide the capability to operate in a space, time, and manner previously unfeasible. The potential impact of this type of technology could foster entirely new concepts of operations for the Marines and potentially the entire Department of Defense.
“There are commercial technologies that provide one area of excellence in robotic building, but few that tie all the necessary aspects together in a way that makes construction instantly accessible to the novice without any software engineering training,” said DIU program manager, U.S. Navy Lt. Jeremiah Diacogiannis. “The design of new structures, from shelters to bridges, have the ability to be accomplished in drastically less time via simple, intuitive commands on a touchscreen tablet or smartphone and executed by the robotics system at the push of a button.”
DIU and the Marines have embarked on a program, working with ICON, a construction technologies startup in Austin, Texas, to prototype various structures using ICON’s technology that combines 3D robotics, software and advanced material for commercial homebuilding use. With this program, ICON will train Marines on the software, robotics and material delivery sub-systems that provide construction-scale additive manufacturing capabilities and usher in a revolution in expeditionary construction. Initial laboratory demonstrations and training with Marines this winter were a complete success, laying the groundwork for a larger, expeditionary demonstration, which will take place in April to show the full capability of the ICON system to build large-scale military shelters.
“The unique opportunity to work with the United States Marines has been remarkable for the ICON team,” said Evan Loomis, co-founder of ICON. “Of course, we are passionate about the software suite, robotic systems and advanced materials we engineer, but to have the opportunity to use them to increase the nation’s operational readiness makes us proud. The humanitarian applications are endless and the ability to build useful structures for our bravest service men and women is truly tremendous. We look forward to the growth of the relationship.”
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