Being a neophyte in the world of woodworking – I’ve made a shabby but sturdy shed – I can appreciate the value of a good partner who can help measure, cut, hold things and usually a second pair of hands. The usual disadvantage with humans is that you have to pay or feed them in exchange for this duty. So imagine my joy that ETH Zurich is pioneering in the art of robotic carpentry!

The DFAB House project of multi-institutional space spatial assemblies is an effort to increase the efficiency not only of the process of framing a house, but also of the design itself.

The robot part is as you would expect, though easier said than created. A pair of robot arms mounted to the ceiling in the work area tears off and cuts the beams to length, sets them up, and punch holes where they will later be attached.

Most of this can be accomplished without any human intervention, and what’s more, without backing plates or scaffolding. The designs of these modules (part size variations that can be mixed and matched) are specifically generated to be essentially autonomous; the load and rigidity are managed by the arrangement of the beams.

The CAD work is done in advance and the robots follow the plan, carefully avoiding each other and working slowly but effectively.

“If a change is made to the project as a whole, the computer model can be constantly adjusted to meet the new requirements,” says Matthias Kohler, who runs the project, in an ETHZ press release. “This type of integrated digital architecture bridges the gap between design, planning, and execution.”

Human workers must bolt, but this step also seems to be automated; robots may not have the sensors or tools available to undertake at the present time.

Eventually, the beams will also be reinforced by prefabricated concrete posts in the same way and embedded in a “smart slab”, optimized for exactly these layouts and created by 3D sand-based printing. The complete three-story structure should be complete and open to exploration this fall. You can learn more on the project website.