With the issue of homelessness and housing affordability continues to be be a pressing one around the country, it just might take some out-of-the-box thinking to find a solution. ICON, the Austin-based 3D-printed home company, sees the future of solving this problem in space. That's right: The company is on its way to creating housing on Mars and the moon with the assistance of NASA.
"I think the kind of civilization that learns to explore outer space, and to live in outer space, will be the civilization that can solve homelessness, " Jason Ballard said in an interview with Fast Company this week.
And no, this isn't just a pipe dream: In fact, ICON has already begun experiments that involved melting down simulated moon dust to use in its cement mixture, tests that were completed in NASA's lab, says Ballard.
ICON has long been at the forefront of housing design: Back in 2018, the company made the first fully permitted 3-D house and followed up earlier this month with the release of its first series of four 3-D homes, all of which were listed for sale in Austin.
Its also always been invested in addressing homelessness—in fact, Ballard created the company due to his frustration with the issues surrounding housing inequality. Ballard was frustrated to see the technology of 3D printing being used on small plastic goods when he felt they could be used to help with the bigger matters of the world.
In 2019, the company collaborated with Industry West on a community of houses—printed in just 27 hours—made for Austin's homeless. It also partnered with nonprofit New STory to build communities in Mexico and Haiti.
By bypassing the need for an architect, increasing the speed of production, and using cement—a notoriously cheap and durable substance—ICON can create structures at a fraction of the cost of competitive houses.
"The most direct thing we are doing [to cut cost with 3-D] automation is we're replacing materials and labor, Ballard tells Fast Company. "Once you put forth the capital cost for the robot, the labor after that is free."
This will be a key consideration when looking to build in space—after all, there aren't exactly readily-available construction crews on Mars. Though ICON's out-of-this-world concept has a ways to go before any possible implementation, it's this kind of forward thinking that's often required to solve the most seemingly insurmountable problems.
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