Robot builds dry stone walls all by itself

The excavator in action (ETH Zürich)
A team at Switzerland’s ETH Zürich university has unveiled an autonomous excavator that can build dry ​stone walls from randomly shaped boulders and concrete rubble.

It picks rocks from a pile and scans them to capture their shape before placing them with centimetre precision guided by algorithms.

The machine is an adapted Menzi Muck walking excavator, called a “hydraulic excavator for an autonomous purpose”, or HEAP for short.

It operates with the help of a global positioning system, an inertial measurement unit and a suite of LiDAR sensors.

It can also excavate and shape landscapes following a 3D design.

It’s being used to build a 65m-long, 6m-high load bearing wall at a digitally planned landscape called Circularity Park in Oberglatt on the northern outskirts of Zürich.

In a paper published in the journal Science Robotics, the scientists say HEAP would be useful for building landscape structures from irregular rock or rubble already lying about in a given location, thus avoiding trucking in preprocessed materials.

  • See HEAP in action:

The research team includes scientists from Gramazio Kohler Research, Robotics Systems Lab, Vision for Robotics Lab, and the Chair of Landscape Architecture.

The development of the machine was carried out at ETH Zürich’s National Centre of Competence in Research for Digital Fabrication.

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