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Environment / Climate change

Robotic 3D printers are building a bridge over a canal in Amsterdam

Around 1,500 bridges span Amsterdam’s spiderweb of canals. Most are made of heavy brick and stone, and form a vital part of the city’s infrastructure. But come 2017, the city will play host to a new pedestrian bridge, about as futuristic as they come. 

That’s because the bridge’s intricate, spidery structure will be drawn out in midair by 3D printers. The material’s strength means the structure can be built up from impossibly small filmaents: 

Even more excitingly, the process will be entirely automated. Robot arms will draw the bridge in situ, sliding along already-built sections to create the rest of the bridge in midair. This video shows the process: 

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The new bridge is a collaboration between Dutch startup MX3D, which has also worked with inventive urban design firm Studio Roosegaarde in the past, and construction company Heijmans. It will be built over two months in 2017, over an as yet unconfirmed stretch of the city’s canals. 

The move is great for Amsterdam – it’ll get a new bridge, plus a new tourist atttraction to boot – but it also has potential to change the way we construct public infrastructure. The 3D printed bridge, the world’s first, will be built using what designers are calling an “automatic construction site”, which requires minimal staff, has fewer hazards, and creates far less waste than a traditional construction project. This is the first time the 3D robot arms will have been used on a project of this size. 

This mock-up shows how the bridge will be constructed while causing minimal disruption in the surrounding area:

 Joris Laarman. the bridge’s designer, told The Guardian that the bridge represents a “new form of craftsmanship”, which could make its way to other areas of the construction industry. 

All images: MX3D.
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