Bold Goals in Accelerating Times: 3D Printing Michelangelo’s David

It is perhaps the most staggering piece of artwork in the whole of human history, renowned for its accuracy in the depiction of the human body . Anyone who has seen it up close comes away in awe of the fact that someone had the ability to carve such a piece from stone.

Imagine now that one day we will see a 3D printer that could print Michelangelo’s David utilizing concrete and other advanced materials — and that if such a statue would be placed next to the original, most people would be unable to tell the difference!

Science fiction? Maybe not. And that idea is a good example of how to think about the accelerating rate of change around us today — and how some industries and organizations establish bold goals in order to achieve the success that comes from being fast.

Your future home might be planned using virtual reality, built with a 3D printer and inspected by a robot for quality. What may sound like a sci-fi movie could become reality in a few decades as Singapore ramps up its construction productivity and employs more efficient building methods. Building with speed and quality through high-tech, Straits Times, Hong Kong, October 2016

Consider the concrete industry — it’s not a very fast moving industry. Concrete is concrete — it’s hard, its poured, and it sets with foundational strength. It would seem that not a lot of change comes to the world of concrete.

“Bold goals such as the of 3D-printing David’s Michaelangelo spur people on to accelerate their thinking, with the result that the big bold bets that will reshape the industry be achieved sooner, rather than later“.

Yet it is being affected in the same way that every other industry is, particularly as a result of the acceleration of science. In this case, the concept of 3D printing technology. The result? Some who are now thinking that the boldest goal to achieve in the concrete industry would be accomplished when someone was able to print Michelangelo’s David utilizing a 3D printer.

It’s perhaps the equivalent of the well known Turing test, which is the ultimate challenge with computer technology — could a computer have the ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human? Farfetched? No. In fact, computer companies have been pursuing the goal of the Turing test in a feverish race.

Every industry has, or should have, the equivalent of a Turing test. Think about robotics — how quickly will this industry mature? Some in the industry speak of a “Jetsons goal for robotics” – the industry will have matured when it can build a robot that will be accepted by a family, just like Rosie the Robot from the popular 1960’s television cartoon.

There are many other examples of broad, sweeping challenges to the global scientific or business community. The X-Prize Foundation is an initiative challenging the global scientific community to solve some of the biggest problems of our time, having to do with education, the environment, healthcare or water.

One of the initiatives involves a $10 million prize for a group that could develop the medical tri-corder as envisaged in the 1960’s Star Trek television series. A team at NASA’s Ames Research Laboratory took on the challenge and developed the Scandu Scout, a palm sized device that can read blood pressure, pulse and other information simply by touching it to your forehead.

“Using 3D-printed wax moulds for concrete components, we will have a completely different paradigm. This is transformative technology” Architect James Gardiner

Bold goals such as these spur people on to accelerate their thinking, with the result that the big bold bets that will reshape the industry be achieved sooner, rather than later.

So it is with the concept of 3D printing involving concrete. The idea is already moving quickly : in one of the first examples to date, an entire 4,305 sq foot, 2 story home has been printed in China utilizing advanced 3D printer technology. It has walls as thick as 8 feet and with 9 foot ceilings, and took 45 days to print from start to finish. Not just that, but it was printed in one go at the building site!

And in Dubai, they’ve 3D printed a small office building 20 feet high, 120 feet long, and 40 feet wide using 3D concrete printing technology. It too 17 days to print, was overseen by a single engineer, and saw a cost reduction of 50% compared to traditional construction methods.

Clearly this type of advanced technology is moving along quickly, and it promises huge returns to the construction industry overall. We can get more flexible designs, with concrete that is warped or twisted. Waste is significantly reduced, new design concepts are suddenly possible, and we can cut down on the cost of building structures. People are talking about the fact that it will lead us to an era in which we can “design for deconstruction” — printing in such a way that when a building is eventually decommissioned, we can disassemble it rather than blowing it up!

What’s the Turing test or Michelangelo’s David in your industry?

And are you prepared to think in a big and bold way to get there before others do?

Jim Carroll is one of the world’s leading global futurist, trends and innovation experts, with a massive global blue chip client list. Over the last 20 years, more than 2 million people have shared his insight at his events …..with clients ithat nclude NASA; Walt Disney Corporation; PGA of America; Wall Street Journal; DuPont; The GAP; Siemens; Lockheed Martin; and the Swiss Innovation Forum.
He prides himself on his ability to quickly make decisions, and can help you make a decision on the future if you decide to contact him.
This article was based on his recent opening keynote for the annaul conference of the American Concrete Institute