• Chinese scientists say they're 3D printing a 590-foot-tall dam by 2024 using AI and robots.
• The project will use an AI system with unmanned trucks, bulldozers, rollers, and other equipment.
• The researchers say their method eliminates human error and safety concerns for workers.
China is poised to build a hydropower dam in two years using artificial intelligence, construction robots, and zero human labor, scientists involved in the project said.
The Yangqu dam on the Tibetan plateau is set to be assembled layer by layer, like with 3D printing, The South China Morning Post first reported on Sunday, citing a paper published in April in the peer-reviewed Journal of Tsinghua University (Science and Technology).
If and when it is completed, the ambitious project will likely be the world's tallest structure built using 3D printing processes. The current record is held by a two-story office building in Dubai, which stands 20 feet high.
However, the paper said the Yangqu dam will be 590 feet tall. By comparison, the Hoover Dam's structural height is 726 feet.
At Yangqu, a central AI system will be used to oversee a massive automated assembly line that starts with a fleet of unmanned trucks used to transport construction materials to parts of the worksite, per the scientists.
Once the materials arrive, unmanned bulldozers and pavers will turn them into a layer of the dam, and then rollers equipped with sensors will help to press each layer so that they become firm and durable, they said.
Per the paper, when a layer is complete, the robots will send information about the state of construction back to the AI system.
However, the mining of the construction material will still have to be done manually, the researchers noted.
The AI system and its army of robots will help eliminate human error, such as when roller operators don't keep to a straight line or when truck drivers deliver materials to the wrong spot, said lead author Liu Tianyun of Tsinghua University, according to SCMP.
The system will also allow on-site work to progress continuously without safety concerns for human workers, the researchers said, per the outlet.
According to the scientists, the completed Yangqu dam will provide 5 billion kilowatt-hours of power every year to China.
If successful, the building method could provide a blueprint for other construction projects, such as road construction, Liu's team said, as reported by SCMP.
China, which is facing a plummeting birth rate and possible labor shortages, has in recent years turned to automation to keep its industries going.