China is reportedly on track to build a hydroelectric project using artificial intelligence (AI) and construction robots. There will be no human labor involved in the project, which is expected to last two years.
The 180-meter (590-foot) Yangqu Hydropower Project on the Tibetan Plateau will be constructed using progressive manufacturing methods such as 3D printing, unmanned excavators, trucks and bulldozers, paving stones and rollers , all controlled by the AI, the report mentioned.
The ambitious project will most likely be the tallest structure in the world made using 3D printing methods if and when it is completed. A two-storey office building in Dubai holds the current record of 20 feet tall.
The Yangqu Dam would supply about 5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year from the upper reaches of the Yellow River in Henan. Power will be transmitted via a 1,500 kilometer (932 mile) high voltage cable designed specifically for green power transmission.
The project’s lead scientist, Liu Tianyun, in a report published in the Peer-reviewed journal from Tsinghua University (Science and Technology), said 3D printing technology for large filled infrastructure has evolved for mass applications. He added that the technology would save humans from heavy, repetitive and dangerous work.
About a decade ago, Liu and his team at Tsinghua University’s State Key Hydroscience and Engineering Laboratory came up with the idea of 3D printing large buildings. They planned to turn the yard into a massive printer, with automated machines working in unison as different components.
How are Chinese scientists using AI in the project?
Chinese engineers aren’t new to AI, as it was employed in building Baihetan, the world’s second-largest dam, in just four years. According to Liu, testing of the technology in past construction projects has shown that smart machines can outperform humans, especially in harsh and risky environments.
However, the team did not address concerns about the progress of the Yangqu Dam. According to the report, work in Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province started in late 2021.
According to the scientists, a central AI system will be used to manage a large automated assembly line in Yangqu, which will start with a fleet of driverless trucks transporting construction materials to different parts of the construction site.
When the materials arrive, they will be rolled into a layer of the dam by unmanned bulldozers and paving stones, then pressed into place by rollers equipped with sensors, according to the report.
The robots will provide building status information to the AI system when a layer is complete, according to the document. The researchers also pointed out that the building material will still have to be extracted manually.
The AI system and its robot army will help reduce human errors. The device will also allow work to continue on site without human workers worrying about their safety.
If successful, the construction method could serve as a model for other projects, such as roads. China, which faces a declining birth rate and potential labor shortages, has turned to automation in recent years to keep its industries running.
However, a Nanjing-based civil engineering scientist involved in the project told SCMP that the 3D printing technology has its limitations, but will find new applications in the future.
“It cannot print a structure made up of different materials, like reinforced concrete made up of steel and cement,” the scientist explained. He continued, “An army of construction robots can offset the sharp decline in manual labor caused by the low birth rate.”