In 2002, the publishers of the magazine NASA Tech Briefs began a contest titled “Create the Future” as a way to push forward and recognize outstanding innovation in engineering. It rapidly became a very popular competition, drawing over 8,000 product design concepts from a wide range of fields. The winners of past contests have made some truly outstanding contributions. In 2013, for example, four students from Harvard founded an organization called Theratech to introduce the ChemoPatch, a patch-based chemotherapy device that provides early stage chemotherapy while being low in cost, disposable, and easy to use.
The winner of this year’s contest, Contour Crafting, was chosen from the more than 1,000 submissions that poured in from both professionals and students in 61 countries around the world. Contour Crafting was created by University of Southern California Behrokh Khoshnevis as a computerized construction method allowing for large structures to be 3D printed. Moreover, the printing process has been simplified so that they can actually be manufactured directly from the architecture CAD models.
As the winner, Dr. Khoshnevis will receive the $20,000 grand prize offered in this year’s contest. Khoshnevis was, understandably, delighted to have been recognized with this honor and the funding that accompanies it. In an interview, he stated:
“Bringing 3D printing to construction is bringing a concept to a proven application. For many years, building has been done in layers – concrete foundation blocks, brick laying, structural framing, etc. I am very happy to receive this award and find it to be very timely as I am in the process of fund raising and I think this recognition will help me greatly in furthering the project.”
The contour crafting technique proposed means that walls would be built up layer by layer via extrusion using a paste-like material that would be smoothed by a robotic trowel. As a result of the unique approach, it would be possible with this to create not only boxy shapes but also organic curves. According to the product brief submitted to the competition:
“Contour Crafting is a major innovation that automates the construction of whole strucutres; and radically reduces the time and cost of construction. The result would be a revolution in the construction industry that would lead to affordable construction of high quality low-income housing, the rapid construction of emergency shelters and on-demand housing in response to disasters. Contour Crafting is the first and only large-scale 3D printing technology that can rapidly construct complete buildings.”
This is not an idea that simply occurred in a flash of inspiration. Dr. Khoshnevis has been working for over a decade to develop and refine the technique, procure academic grants, and built a system that can create 400 sq. ft structures. He hopes that he will be able to secure sufficient funding in the near future to demonstrate the possibility for this technique to be used to build a 2,500 sq. ft. structure.
The grand prize award to Dr. Khoshnevis was not the only recognition doled out in the highly competitive “Create the Future” contest. A series of seven first place winners were also named in the categories of Aerospace and Defense, Automotive/Transportation, Consumer Products, Electronics, Machinery/Automation/Robotics, Medical, and Sustainable Technologies. The grand prize and first prize winners were selected from a pool of finalists chosen by senior editors at Tech Briefs Media Group. The jury to select winners among the finalists was comprised of a panel of design engineers. In addition, visitors to the contest website were able to vote on entries and the ten that garnered the most votes were rewarded with Orbotix’s Sphero Mobile Game System.
The competitions generous cash prize is made possible by support through the program’s sponsors COMSOL and Mouser Electronics. COMSOL is a provider of simulation software best known for its COMSOL Multiphysics software. Mouser Electronics, based in Dallas, TX is a Berkshire Hathaway company that distributes semiconductor and electronic components.
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