Could thick walls built with a mixture of clay-rich mud, shredded straw and limestone mud help solve the country’s affordable housing crisis?
The Five Men Who Created Terran robots We believe that adobe construction offers a practical and cost-effective solution to the high cost of owning a home.
and so does National Science Foundationwhich awarded the Bloomington-based business a $256,000 Small Business Innovation Grant in the summer of 2020.
Terra’s mission statement consists of eight words: “Transforming dirt into affordable, sustainable, comfortable and beautiful homes.”
The grant is from the NSF Initiative for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, which funds advanced technologies that address challenges to society and the economy. The state paid another $50,000 for the milk project.
The money is fueling a new, AI-driven building model that has never been seen before and uses an ancient material: adobe made from the earth.
3D Printer, Robot, Hoosier Soil
During an open house Oct. 26 at the Terran Robotics site on West 11th Street, visitors get an up-close look and display of an 80-pound, cable-powered robot designed and built by mechanical engineer Nick Ely with funding from a Science Foundation grant.
The AI-controlled robot has disc-type arms that can pick up and move heavy balls of wet milk which are then transferred by a conveyor into plywood shapes. Pulse hammers then strike the material inside, creating walls 12 inches thick that are heavy and durable when dry.
It is often the high labor and time costs that make adobe construction an unlikely option for builders outside the southwestern part of the country, Eli explained.
The vision at Terran is to automate much of the process with artificial intelligence, thus reducing costs and simplifying construction, using local materials along the way. The heavy clay soil that is the main component of the muddy mixture, for example, is a by-product of the crushed limestone at Ben’s Quarry in Springville.
Clay free. Terran pays the cost of transporting it to his production site.
The goal is to manufacture durable, energy-efficient housing that people can afford, to “reduce the cost of building new, eco-friendly homes,” Terran CEO Zach Doyle wrote in the NFS grant proposal.
Funds from the grant also funded the development of a lightweight 3D printer that will be used to create components for building milk.
Is Adobe Affordable?
Daniel Weddell, Terran’s chief design officer, anticipates that the price of this innovative type of construction will become competitive, as the process becomes more automated.
“The inherently low material costs of adobe, combined with the labor savings from automation, make the Terran approach promising for addressing the national housing shortage,” Doyle told the US National Science Foundation.
He said market research confirms the interest of home builders who say they will use new technology and adobe building materials as soon as they become available and at a lower cost.
The company’s website offers a compatible venue for anyone who puts $100 as a deposit into a future designed and built Terran home. So far, about 50 people have put their names on the list, Weddell said.
While Terran’s focus is on wall construction, the company hopes to extend the automation concept to other housing components such as floors and roofs.
Terran’s founders say the technology has far-reaching implications for the housing market. Simplifying the building process will allow developers to build faster and at a lower cost.
Adobe homes are soundproof, fireproof, and energy efficient. The company says Terran walls regulate indoor humidity, boost air quality and eliminate costly climate control systems.
The first milk houses? in 2023
With the robot fine-tuned, the wall-building process optimized, and 3D-printer technology complete and a prototype built, Terran is pressing ahead with plans to build some homes.
The company is working on moving to a larger location, with indoor space, in the Industrial Estate off Ind.45 across from Walmart in Bloomington. Climate controlled and three times the size of the 11th Street site, employees will be able to continue developing the AI robot and materials through the winter.
From there, go to the local housing market, just like the details of the NSF plan.
“The company will push its marketing efforts forward, specifically by completing its first homebuilding projects in partnership with regional property developers,” Dwiel wrote in an August NSF project update.
For 2023, Terran Marketing Director Nate O’Donnell said the company expects a square foot price competitive with the market rate for a new, custom-built home in Bloomington.
Compare your upfront home costs with other upscale local companies, such as Loren Wood Builders and Bailey Weiler Design.
Costs will begin to fall once AI automation technology is improved and expanded, which will make Terran’s approach promising to address the national housing shortage in the United States, according to an NSF grant proposal.
Next spring, Terran’s team and equipment will build a 1,000-square-foot home for Humanity on West Cottage Grove Avenue in Bloomington, near other homes sponsored by Habitat.
“It will be built at a cost slightly less than the regular Habitat for Humanity project in Bloomington,” O’Donnell said, adding, “It would be well below the market price for a home in Bloomington.”
Contact HT Laura Lane at email@example.com or 812-318-5967.
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