Ever seen a building get demolished? Well, it looks a little like this: heavy machinery is used to crush the building to pieces. Fire hoses spray lots of water around to prevent clouds of harmful dust from rising into the air. Big machines then scoop up chunks of crumpled rebar (the metal structures inside the concrete), and often head straight for the nearest landfill. Basically, demolition is a huge tax on resources.
Design student Omer Haciomeroglu from Sweden’s Umeå Institute of Design seems to have found the answer that will put all our demolishing days behind us. Meet ERO (short for erosion), a robot that literally eats buildings.
Well, okay, ERO doesn’t really eat buildings. But the winner of the 2013 International Design Excellence Award in the Student Design Category is able to recycle concrete in an energy-efficient manner, separating it from rebar and other debris on site.
Using a method called hydro-demolition, and a special centrifugal decanter, ERO attacks the small cracks in concrete with high-pressured microjets of water. Exploiting the tiny cracks causes the concrete to break apart, leaving behind bare metal rebar. ERO then gets to work vacuuming up the resulting dust and debris into its decanter, further breaking them down into reusable aggregate.
The robot then separates the waste from the reusable in neat packages, ready to be taken away to form new concrete all over again. The metal rebar is also left undamaged, allowing it to be recycled easily or reused in other building projects.
Though still in its concept phase, ERO promises big changes and sustainability in the construction industry – it saves time and money spent on demolition by replacing the need for several different types of machines bashing and pounding on buildings with a single, autonomous robot. That’s right; a fleet of EROs will be quite capable of scanning the site, planning their own routes, and then fanning out to gobble up a building, thank you very much.
Not only does ERO promises reusable concrete aggregate, it also allows for bare, cleaned steel rebar to be cut and reused or sent to scrap, instead of overloading our landfills. Meanwhile, the water used is recycled back into the system, while turbulence dynamos reclaim part of the energy used in ERO’s processes.
Given that the world demands and consumes a great deal of concrete every year (over 2 billion tones of concrete is produced annually worldwide!), ERO could be the eco-friendly, sustainable answer we’re looking for. Also, how easy would it be to demolish a building in cramped-for-space Singapore? Neighbouring buildings would no longer have to worry about dust and noise.
Who knew Mother Nature’s new best friend would be a robot?