A couple of days ago we covered the story of how a young company spun out of an Oxford University lab hoped to use 3D printing technology to eventually print out whole human organs for transplant. A story has since come out today on an Austin-based start-up that believes their application of the technology could go a long way to solving the issue of the 1.2 billion people globally who lack access to adequate housing.
ICON, who hail from Austin in Texas (USA), have developed 3D printing technology that means they can print out a 650 ft2 (60.4 m2) house in less than a day. Printed from cement, the current model prototype consists of a living room, bedroom, bathroom, and porch. It takes between 12 and 24 hours to be printed out and only costs $10,000 (£7160) to make, a price ICON believe can be brought down to as little as $4000 (£2864). The 3D printing process can also make larger 800 ft2 (74 m2) properties.
One of the company’s 3 co-founders is Jason Ballard, who also runs another company in the housing sector, Treehouse, which upgrades homes to make them more sustainable. They have produced a zero carbon footprint model home. Now, along with his two co-founders, Ballard has switched his attention from sustainable housing to affordable housing. Not that the two are by any means mutually exclusive by any means. ICON says its 3D-printed houses will create minimal waste. However, the focus of ICON is first and foremost to provide adequate housing cheaply for those who need it most.
In partnership with New Story, a non-profit, in the near future ICON hopes to create a community of around 100 of the 3D printed properties for families in El Salvador.
While not the first company to use 3D printing technology to create houses, ICON believes previous attempts have not been of sufficient quality to catch on and really provide families with a property they can call a home. Quoted in The Verge online magazine, Ballard explains:
“They are printed in a warehouse, or they look like Yoda huts. For this venture to succeed, they have to be the best houses. I think if we were printing in plastic we would encounter some issues.”
Cement was decided upon as it’s a common material used for homes, especially in the developing world and will reassure those potential living in the ICON houses that their structure is sturdy. Providing housing that meets quality standards and can offer a comfortable home environment, and not just provide the bare minimum of a roof and four walls is important to ICON. Bullard is using one as an office to get a feel for any improvements that might be made.
“We are going to install air quality monitors. How does it look, and how does it smell?”
The company also believes, if expected resistance from labour unions can be overcome, their 3D-printed houses could help solve the affordable housing crisis in the USA. It’s an issue we are also very familiar with in the UK. After that…outer space:
“One of the big challenges is how are we going to create habitats in space…It’s one of the more promising potential habitat technologies.”
For the latest technology in the world of 3D printing, it would seem even the sky isn’t the limit!