Close-up side view of a 12-inch-thick adobe wall made at Terran Robotics in Bloomington.

Bloomington has launched robots that build adobe walls

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.

A thin adobe slab in Terran Robotics shows the straw, clay, and rocks from which it was made.

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.

Mechanical engineer Nick Eli explains at an open house Oct. 26, 2022 how the robot he built, left, directs the construction of a adobe wall at Terran Robotics in Bloomington.

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.

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