Intresto's aim is to use computational power rather than industrial power to help build durable structures from locally sourced raw materials.
While building a house in Tasmania, partly out of rock rubble, Malcolm Lambert saw a solution to a problem builders have faced for thousands of years; how to fit together irregular blocks of building material into a regular shape. Now we have scanning and computing hardware and sophisticated computer science techniques to do the hard 3D geometric shape fitting which is otherwise done in the brains of skilled stone masons. Intresto is developing software to fit a collection of irregular polyhedra to each other and into a regular structure according to general rules of structural stability. The software will take the output from a 3D scanner and build a virtual structure from the stockpile of scanned rocks then instruct the builder as to the position and orientation of each rock in the real structure.
Intresto Pty Ltd (the name comes from “intelligent rearrangement of stone”) was incorporated in January 2007 to take advantage of government R&D funding. Attempts at getting funding have so far been unsuccessful so the project is currently (June 2008) self-funded although we should be able to get some government money via the R&D Tax Offset. Intresto consists of Malcolm Lambert as director and some smart contractors in Sydney developing the software and a dedicated 3D scanner. Prototype scanner and software should be ready for testing towards the end of 2008.
Why do it? Locally sourced rock rubble is a very low embodied energy building material which means very little energy has been used to produce the material. Rock rubble has about 1/10 the embodied energy of dimension stone (rock cut to shape), concrete and brick. Most of the energy comes from burning fossil fuels. The production of concrete accounts for 5% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions so the use of lower embodied energy alternatives can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The software will be scalable to any size rock so will be useful for the building of houses, landscaping, roads, land stabilisation structures, sea walls, river levees, etc. The structures built with this technology will be free standing so will not require wire cages like Gabion walls and they can be dry stone (retaining walls, sea walls, etc.) or stone and mortar (houses). The size of the resource, stone, is literally the size of the planet, most types of stone are suitable for use with this technology and the life-time of stone is measured in centuries so it's a sustainable building material. Oh, and structures skilfully built from irregular natural stone look really good.