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There's a big difference between drawing up blueprints and actually building a house.

You could probably read that on a deep metaphorical level and apply it to all aspects of life, but in this particular instance I'm being quite literal.

But if Tennessee's Branch Technology gets their way, soon constructing a house could be just as easy as hitting "print."

Based in Chattanooga, Branch Technology is a new technology start-up founded by Platt Boyd and Christopher Weller, a pair of architects with a shared interest in robotics and 3D printing. They've also been next-door neighbors for more than a decade.


Branch Technology co-founders Platt Boyd and Christopher Weller. Photo courtesy of Branch Technology.

Branch Technology has indeed built the world's largest freeform 3D printer — and they're using it to print new walls for houses.

In the same way that standard printers release tiny blasts of ink along a 2-dimensional grid, traditional 3D printers (well, "traditional") use a combination of bonding agents and a material such as plastic to build something layer-by-layer within a confined 3-dimensional matrix.

But Branch Technology has found a way to free the 3D printing process from those physical constraints by converting an old automobile manufacturing robot.

“When geometry is not an issue, you can do almost anything. If an architect can send us an original design file we can fabricate that," Branch founder and CEO Platt Boyd told Gizmodo. Imagination is actually the limit. (OK, there are probably a few limits — stupid gravity always wins.)

The machine can print dense, lightweight scaffolding in any shape or size.

Thanks to their patented Cellular Fabrication process (or "C-Fab"), Branch has found a way to replicate the optimized geometries of complex cellular structures such as trees or bones.

"It all comes back to how nature builds things," Branch's Shawn Thorne told Upworthy. "We're really asking the fundamental question of how little we can 3D-print, instead of '3D printing is cool and how much can we do.'"

GIF via Branch Technology.

To achieve this, Branch 3D-prints an internal structural scaffolding for their walls, then fills in the rest of the space with spray foam, concrete, or other traditional construction materials. This allows them to cut down on time and costs without sacrificing quality, aesthetic, or structural integrity.

It also means that the structures are completely customizable, and can be combined with other construction materials and methods.

Image courtesy of Branch Technology.

These 3D-printed walls can be easily integrated into current construction standards, kind of like LEGO for grown-ups.

Don't worry about the robots coming to steal our jobs — Branch Technology's process still requires human beings to assemble the actual pieces and turn them into a house. Fortunately, their walls comply with all the best practices of traditional construction, which means you can use as many or as few 3D-printed walls as you'd like, and there won't be any learning curve for contractors.

Maybe you want to add a new wall to section off an office space from your living room, or you want to tear down that wall between the kitchen and the dining room. Either way, Branch's 3D-printed walls could make the interior decorating process a lot less complicated.

Traditional construction materials are used to make the gaps between each wall piece disappear, just like you would with Sheetrock panels. Branch's proprietary algorithm allows the individual wall segments to mesh seamlessly together, and you can even break the walls down and transport them in smaller, manageable pieces to be assembled later. The individual panels can then be replaced without a problem if something breaks or you decide to redesign.

The 3D-printed walls are also LEED certified (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), which means they're sustainable and environmentally friendly.

And that's just really cool.

Companies in Amsterdam and China have also made significant strides towards the creation of fully 3D-printed houses.

Engineers in Amsterdam have previously tried to 3D-print houses made from plastic and 3D-print bridges in mid-air. While these experiments were both fully automated, they also took a while (like watching the incremental progress of a brand-new skyscraper being built, except worse — we're talking two years to build a 24-foot bridge). In their defense, they were also intended more as experiments than practical applications of the technology.

The Shanghai-based WinSun company was also able to 3D-print 10 houses in just one day. (Branch predicts that they can print only 20 houses a year at their current facilities.) WinSun's 3D-printed houses also require some manual assembly, and the fact that they each cost less than $5,000 to make is somewhat offset by the fact that, well, they're kind of hideous industrial eyesores.

A 3D-printed house that is also a hideous industrial eyesore. Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

While we're still a ways away from miraculously printing out mansions en masse, it's nice to know that we're at least on the right path.

Sure, it might be another several years before we can all 3D-print our dream homes, but who knows? Maybe keeping all those irrationally elaborate tree house designs you drew as a kid will finally pay off...

Photo by Thomas Pusch.

All images provided by Bombas

We can all be part of the giving movement

True

We all know that small acts of kindness can turn into something big, but does that apply to something as small as a pair of socks?

Yes, it turns out. More than you might think.

A fresh pair of socks is a simple comfort easily taken for granted for most, but for individuals experiencing homelessness—they are a rare commodity. Currently, more than 500,000 people in the U.S. are experiencing homelessness on any given night. Being unstably housed—whether that’s couch surfing, living on the streets, or somewhere in between—often means rarely taking your shoes off, walking for most if not all of the day, and having little access to laundry facilities. And since shelters are not able to provide pre-worn socks due to hygienic reasons, that very basic need is still not met, even if some help is provided. That’s why socks are the #1 most requested clothing item in shelters.

homelessness, bombasSocks are a simple comfort not everyone has access to

When the founders of Bombas, Dave Heath and Randy Goldberg, discovered this problem, they decided to be part of the solution. Using a One Purchased = One Donated business model, Bombas helps provide not only durable, high-quality socks, but also t-shirts and underwear (the top three most requested clothing items in shelters) to those in need nationwide. These meticulously designed donation products include added features intended to offer comfort, quality, and dignity to those experiencing homelessness.

Over the years, Bombas' mission has grown into an enormous movement, with more than 75 million items donated to date and a focus on providing support and visibility to the organizations and people that empower these donations. These are the incredible individuals who are doing the hard work to support those experiencing —or at risk of—homelessness in their communities every day.

Folks like Shirley Raines, creator of Beauty 2 The Streetz. Every Saturday, Raines and her team help those experiencing homelessness on Skid Row in Los Angeles “feel human” with free makeovers, haircuts, food, gift bags and (thanks to Bombas) fresh socks. 500 pairs, every week.

beauty 2 the streetz, skid row laRaines is out there helping people feel their beautiful best

Or Director of Step Forward David Pinson in Cincinnati, Ohio, who offers Bombas donations to those trying to recover from addiction. Launched in 2009, the Step Forward program encourages participation in community walking/running events in order to build confidence and discipline—two major keys to successful rehabilitation. For each marathon, runners are outfitted with special shirts, shoes—and yes, socks—to help make their goals more achievable.

step forward, helping homelessness, homeless non profitsRunning helps instill a sense of confidence and discipline—two key components of successful recovery

Help even reaches the Front Street Clinic of Juneau, Alaska, where Casey Ploof, APRN, and David Norris, RN give out free healthcare to those experiencing homelessness. Because it rains nearly 200 days a year there, it can be very common for people to get trench foot—a very serious condition that, when left untreated, can require amputation. Casey and Dave can help treat trench foot, but without fresh, clean socks, the condition returns. Luckily, their supply is abundant thanks to Bombas. As Casey shared, “people will walk across town and then walk from the valley just to come here to get more socks.”

step forward clinic, step forward alaska, homelessness alaskaWelcome to wild, beautiful and wet Alaska!

The Bombas Impact Report provides details on Bombas’s mission and is full of similar inspiring stories that show how the biggest acts of kindness can come from even the smallest packages. Since its inception in 2013, the company has built a network of over 3,500 Giving Partners in all 50 states, including shelters, nonprofits and community organizations dedicated to supporting our neighbors who are experiencing- or at risk- of homelessness.

Their success has proven that, yes, a simple pair of socks can be a helping hand, an important conversation starter and a link to humanity.

You can also be a part of the solution. Learn more and find the complete Bombas Impact Report by clicking here.

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