Thursday, February 10, 2005

An Architect's Wet-Cement Dream (by Bruce Sterling)

"A viab would produce structures that are not set and specific, but impermanent and malleable - merely viable - made of a uniform, recyclable substance like adobe. The automaton's output would have no innate design, boundaries, or service life. It would take whatever form was called for at the moment - a great rotting blooming stony bubble of a building that, unlike all previous forms of human habitation, would be unplanned, responsive, densely monitored, massively customized, and rock-solid, with all modern conveniences.

"The closest thing to a viab today is a small, modest mud-working robot invented by Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California. Khoshnevis' 'contour crafter' works more or less like a 3-D printer, but it's meant to assemble whole buildings. Its nozzle spits wet cement while a programmable trowel smoothes the goo into place. Roche encountered Khoshnevis, and his agile imagination immediately started pushing the idea toward its limits."

One obvious application: self-assembling communities -- on Earth and elsewhere. The "great rotting blooming stony bubble" described by Sterling reminds me of a habitat idea I've played with in science fiction vignettes; I imagined organic-looking structures similar in basic appearance to the abstract statuary of Henry Moore and dubbed them "moorephologies" in his honor. It looks like a "viab" is the perfect instrument to actually build (or, more accurately, grow) one.