Chinese engineers are using AI and 3D printing to build a megadam in only two years. Upon completion, the 590 foot (180m) tall Yangqu Dam will provide much needed energy to the region and will be the single largest object created using 3D printing, dwarfing the previous record holder by 570 foot.
High on the Tibetan Plateau, researchers and engineers from China have outlined blueprints for the incredibly ambitious project. Curiously absent from the otherwise detailed plans are construction workers and other labourers, as per a report published by Tsinghua University.
The reason for this is because almost the entire building process will be directed by an AI system responsible for overseeing a fleet of self-driving trucks and automated assembly lines.
The concrete behemoth would add about five billion kilowatt-hours of electricity to the grid annually, making it one of the largest energy contributors in the region, said Liu Tianyun, an associate at Tsinghua University and the lead author of the paper.
He added that the massive undertaking could be completed on such a tight timeline because automated systems can remain on-site and work continuously without fatigue and safety issues interfering with progress.
They are also less prone to making mistakes. Drivers deliver materials to incorrect locations and roller operators struggle to work in straight lines, according to Liu.
The researchers point out that some roles still require human intervention. Notably, the paper states that the mining of many of the raw materials on-site is still best-suited for manual laborers.
Construction details for the dam involve a fleet of unpiloted trucks delivering the large range of building materials to the site in Qinghai, northwest China.
When at the site, a driverless army of bulldozers, rollers and pavers will get to work building the dam wall up in a layer-cake fashion.
Once each tier of concrete is poured and levelled, a specialised roller complete with sensory equipment, feeds intel back to the central AI system. This will then analyse and optimise each layer ensuring consistency throughout the structure – immensely important for large concrete buildings.
If successful, the 24-month project will displace a 20-foot tall office building in Dubai as the world’s largest 3D-printed structure.
The Yangqu Dam megaproject may be an important proof-of-concept for Chinese engineers. The Asian superpower is facing a declining birth rate that has top officials concerned.
Many other industries, like the country’s booming electric vehicle and e-commerce sectors, have also increasingly looked to automation to alleviate their workforce concerns.