Letting robots do construction jobs on the battlefield frees Marines to fight.
Forging ahead with plans to have robots do “dull, dangerous and dirty” jobs, the U.S. Marine Corps used a 3D printer to create a barracks building out of concrete. The process, which took less than two days, created a hardened living space capable of resisting enemy fire, a real improvement over canvas and nylon tents.
The U.S. Marine Corps moves around a lot, deploying worldwide, often to dusty, remote locations for months at a time. As a consequence, they tend to build a lot of housing for themselves, and it takes a team of ten Marines five days to build a barracks from wood. Not only is construction dangerous, it also prevents those ten Marines from doing other things during those five days.
In 2016, Marine Corps Commandant Robert Neller said that he wanted robots serving the Corps to do anything that is “dull, dangerous, and dirty.” Capt. Matthew Friedell, Additive Manufacturing project officer with the Marine Corps Systems Command, pointed out that construction on the battlefield is all of those things.
The Marines’ Additive Manufacturing team went to the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Champaign, Illinois to use the world’s largest 3D concrete printer. The Marines printed a 500 square foot structure in 40 hours, using a 10-year-old computer, computer aided design files, and the printer. The process involved Marines preparing and loading concrete into the printer, tasks the Marines also think robots could handle. If the entire process is automated the Marines think construction time could be cut to just 24 hours.
While the Marines are touting the speed and personnel savings involved in the exercise, there’s also no doubt that a concrete structure offers more protection from enemy fire than a tent barracks. The buildings are also more durable, waterproof, and would last a very long time, a big bonus in this era of never-ending war