China to 3D print 180-meter-high hydroelectric dam without workers

By : Franyi Sarmiento, Ph.D., Inspenet, May 19, 2022

Researchers from the State Major Laboratory of Hydroscience and Engineering of Tsinghua University in Beijing, led by Liu Tianyun, published a study in the Journal of Tsinghua University in April, to build a 3D hydroelectric dam.

In this project, the dam would be 180 meters high and would become the tallest 3D construction in the world. It would be located on the Tibetan Plateau and only high-tech machinery such as excavators, trucks, pavers, and autonomous rollers controlled by artificial intelligence would be used for its construction, without people on the construction site to avoid human error.

According to the South China Morning Post, this huge structure, designed to contain and channel the water that flows through the Yellow River, is part of the construction of a new hydroelectric power station called Yangqu. The project is already underway with its first steps and should be finished in 2024. By then, they say, it will provide 5 billion kilowatt-hours of power each year to China.

In the study, the authors claim that dam construction and 3D printing are “identical by nature.” In this sense, they thought that the entire construction site could become a giant printer, with a large number of automated machines working together.

The dam, the researchers explain, will be built layer by layer. During the process, a central artificial intelligence (AI) system will be used to supervise a fleet of autonomous trucks that will transport the construction materials to the different work sites. Unmanned bulldozers and pavers, meanwhile, will shape the layers of the dam. In other words, it will be a fully automated process.

According to the researchers, advances in the field of artificial intelligence, including deep learning, will give systems the ability to recognize almost all objects on the site, this will include the materials and the different parts of the work. In addition, they will have the ability to “cope with the uncertainties of a changing environment” and multi-task flexibly.

The features of the system make it considered a giant 3D printer. The main author of the project, Liu Tianyun, believes that this type of automated solution will have many benefits by avoiding human accidents and possible delays in the works. However, he points out that the extraction of the materials will still be done manually.

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