Kathrin Dörfler, Markus Giftthaler and Timothy Sandy, all PhD researchers at ETH Zurich, were amongst this year’s four finalists in the renowned euRobotics TechTransfer Awards for their ground-breaking work on the development of the mobile construction robot, the “In situ Fabricator”. The finals took place as part of this year’s European Robotics Forum from 13 to 15 March in Tampere, Finland.

The 2018 European Robotics Forum (ERF2018) brought together over 900 leading scientists, companies, and policymakers from the field of robotics. Awarded annually by euRobotics, the aim of the euRobotics TechTransfer Award is to showcase the impact of robotics research and technology transfer between science and industry. This year’s four finalist projects were presented in a dedicated technology transfer session and evaluated by a jury consisting of experts from research and industry. Considering this year’s highly competitive participant field, the research team behind the “In situ Fabricator (IF)” is pleased to have achieved the fourth rank.

A new approach to construction robotics
The IF is a generic, mobile construction robot capable of fabricating non-standard, load bearing structures directly on site. This unique construction robotics project is the result of a close collaboration between architects from Gramazio Kohler Research (GKR), ETH Zurich and roboticists from the Agile and Dexterous Robotics Lab (ADRL), ETH Zurich. According to Kathrin Dörfler, PhD researcher with GKR, and Markus Giftthaler, PhD researcher with ADRL, what distinguishes the IF from the relatively few other robotic systems currently available for on-site construction, is that it can be applied to many different tasks, such as brick-laying or steel welding, and that it achieves subcentimeter building accuracy over large workspaces and despite many repositioning manoeuvres without depending on external positioning measurement devices. Commenting on reaching fourth place, Timothy Sandy, PhD researcher within the ADRL stated: “It was a great honour for our team to be amongst the four finalists of this year’s TechTransfer Awards. It underlines how fruitful interdisciplinary collaboration can be in tackling highly complex robotics problems.”

Real-world implementation as part of DFAB HOUSE
So far the major technology transfer milestone toward market introduction was the application of the IF for the construction of a doubly-curved steel rebar mesh as part of the innovative “Mesh Mould” technology. Using this method, the IF produced a load-bearing concrete wall for the NCCR Digital Fabrication’s unique DFAB HOUSE housing unit, situated on the NEST building of Empa in Dübendorf. Numerous partners from industry were involved and significantly supported the research team in preparing the IF for its first real-world building tasks. This gave them the unique opportunity to learn about the integration of the system into a full-scale, on-site construction pro-cess from design to execution.

Next, the involved professorships intend to transfer this knowledge to other construction and material systems, and to integrate these in commercial projects. The NCCR Digital Fabrication is very proud of the progress of this re-search project and congratulates the IF team for receiving this award.

Project credits
Funding programme: National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication
Project team: Kathrin Dörfler, Markus Giftthaler, Timothy Sandy
Collaborating professorships: Gramazio Kohler Research, Institute for Technology in Architecture, ETH Zurich and Agile & Dexterous Robotics Lab, Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems, ETH Zurich

Image credits: Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich