Interview: Lenovo’s Chris Ruffo – Revolutionising house building… and home buying

New technologies such as digital fabrication, artificial intelligence and augmented reality will redefine how buildings of the future are designed, made and used, claims tech giant Lenovo.

In an exclusive interview with BIM+, Chris Ruffo, worldwide segment manager for architecture, engineering and product development at Lenovo, explains how the ‘Future of Making Things’ and the increasing convergence of manufacturing and construction will transform the sector. Stephen Cousins reports.

“We are already seeing buildings that are manufactured, rather than built in the traditional sense, which brings multiple benefits in terms of productivity, reduced waste, easier-to-manage projects and greater creative possibilities,” says Ruffo. “And there are a whole series of trends that fit into that, around generative design, AI, digital fabrication, real-time rendering, and scan-to-BIM that are going to make all our experiences different and better.”

Lenovo provided the computational hardware needed to design the world’s first 3D printed metal bridge in Amsterdam as well as control the five axis robots used to fabricate it. The MX3D bridge (completed in the factory last October and due for installation over a canal some time this year) is designed as a living laboratory for data scientists, fitted with an IoT sensor network that can measure things like the structure’s performance relative to design, any deviations, and the movement of people across it.

Lenovo provided five P920 workstations for the project, which are being used to capture all the data and process it with machine learning.

Lenovo provided the computational hardware needed to design the world’s first 3D printed metal bridge in Amsterdam

“People are slowly waking up to the possibilities of AI in architecture, using the data that’s generated to create machine learning models that figure out how to build better things. It’s an emerging trend that we are going to hear a lot more about at various conferences next year,” says Ruffo.

The possibilities of additive manufacture are also being pushed by Aectual, a spin off of DUS architects, which has developed a large-scale bio-based 3D printing technique.

The firm’s robots are able to mass produce custom-made architectural products, including 3D printed flooring, bespoke 3D printed facade and interior cladding systems, and mold work for concrete. The fabrication technique utilises a printable bio-plastic made from plants that can be entirely recycled back into the print cycle.

The Tiny (Bau)Haus project, by DUS architects, includes floors, walls, facades, and canopies built using Aectual, seating and shelving are integrated and appear to “grow” from the walls. The firms also collaborated to produce elaborately curved molds for the structure of a staircase.

“Aectual’s long-term vision is that people will buy homes in a similar way to how they set up a favourite playlist in iTunes, choosing from a collection of materials and samples and pulling them together into a truly bespoke product,” says Ruffo. “We believe the technique is going to transform the building sector because it can reduce waste, increase productivity, and increase creative options for people in a way that is both sustainable and circular.”

Lenovo claims its new P53 15-inch laptop, fitted with a RTX5000 graphics card, is the most powerful on the market

BIM has been proven to improve collaboration, increase efficiency and reduce waste, and the rise of new technologies for digital fabrication, AI and visualisation are pushing the concept even further, extending the BIM eco-system beyond a 3D model on a desktop. 

According to Ruffo, computing power has increased by an order of magnitude over the last year and the launch of new RTX graphics cards from NVidia expand the capabilities for design and visualisation with features such as real-time ray tracing, AI, and programmable shading.

Lenovo claims its new P53 15-inch laptop, fitted with a RTX5000 graphics card, is the most powerful on the market, allowing users to run high-end mobile VR and AR mixed reality systems and fully featured applications in game engines such as Unreal Engine for Unity, even on the job site.

Lenovo launched its Think Reality AR and VR platform last month, the initial A6 AR headset is lightweight and includes a battery pack that clips to the waist to improve mobility. The company is also manufacturing and producing the new Rift S headset for Oculus, which features higher resolution screen and improved lenses and position tracking.

“Next generation mixed reality systems provide better eye tracking, lower latency, and higher resolution, making experiences much more lifelike,” says Ruffo. “Visualisation is no longer just something that’s tacked on to a project to show the client and the public a static picture of what a scheme is going to look like. Architects and designers are using it as a design element so clients can really see what’s happening to their project and make changes on the fly, rendered in cinematic quality in real time.”

Construction is traditionally reactive and slow to innovate, and while Ruffo admits it will take time for many new technologies to take hold across the sector, he points to examples where smaller-to-medium-sized firms are adopting advanced workflows, with VR being a prevalent example.

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