Last month, in a discussion about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the direction it will take, Klaus Schwab, the Forum’s founder, invited readers to “look 10 years into the future and make some predictions.” The future he envisioned was one of robotic pharmacies, mind-reading machines and 3D-printed cars. Well, that future might be even closer than we first thought.

A few months back, a Dutch startup announced its plans to build the world’s first 3D-printed bridge across a canal in Amsterdam. MX3D will use robotic arms that heat steel to 1,500°C to print the bridge, which they hope to complete by next year.

canal-bridge

A prototype bridge has already been built, as can be seen in this video by CNN Money.

Robots will begin on one side of the canal, and slowly build a self-supporting structure out of molten metal. The procedure, which CTO Tim Geurtjens calls “printing outside the box” allows for the special robotic arms to print molten metal in mid-air and advance along with the bridge itself.

Joris Laarman, the designer of the bridge, explained the thinking behind the idea: “This bridge will show how 3D printing finally enters the world of large-scale, functional objects and sustainable materials while allowing unprecedented freedom of form. The symbolism of the bridge is a beautiful metaphor to connect the technology of the future with the old city, in a way that brings out the best of both worlds.”

If successful, the project will demonstrate how 3D printing can be used as an efficient alternative to large-scale infrastructure projects. A recent poll by the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Software & Society found that 86% of respondents thought a 3D-printed car would be on the market by 2025, and 81% said that 5% of consumer products would be 3D-printed.technology-tipping-points

But as another report from the Forum’s Global Agenda Councils pointed out, this type of development does raise important questions as to whether – or rather when – robots will render certain jobs obsolete: “With technology racing ahead and leaving some people behind, we have two choices: either to try and stop progress, or to figure out what we need to do to help those who are being displaced.” The choice we make will almost certainly determine the direction the coming Fourth Industrial Revolution will take.

Author: Donald Armbrecht is a freelance writer and social media producer.

Image: A visualisation of the MX3D bridge project.