All posts by Moderator

Hold this beam for me, friend robot, and let us construct a house together

Being a neophyte in the world of woodworking — I’ve made a shabby but sturdy shed — I can appreciate the value of a good partner who can help measure, cut, hold stuff and generally be a second pair of hands. The usual drawback with humans is you have to pay them or feed them in return for this duty. So imagine my delight in finding that ETH Zürich is pioneering the art of robot-assisted woodworking!

The multi-institutional Spatial Timber Assemblies DFAB House project is an effort to increase the efficiency not just of the process of framing a home, but also of the design itself.

The robot part is as you might expect, though more easily said than created. A pair of ceiling-mounted robot arms in the work area pluck and cut beams to length, put them in position and drill holes where they will later be attached.

Most of this can be accomplished without any human intervention, and what’s more, without reinforcement plates or scaffolding. The designs of these modules (room-size variations that can be mixed and matched) are generated specifically to be essentially freestanding; load and rigidity are handled by the arrangement of beams.

The CAD work is done ahead of time and the robots follow the blueprint, carefully avoiding one another and working slowly but efficiently.

“If any change is made to the project overall, the computer model can be constantly adjusted to meet the new requirements,” explained Matthias Kohler, who heads the project, in an ETHZ news release. “This kind of integrated digital architecture is closing the gap between design, planning and execution.”

Human workers have to do the bolting step, but that step too seems like it could be automated; the robots may not have the sensors or tools available to undertake it at present.

Eventually the beams will also be reinforced by similarly prefabbed concrete posts and slot into a “smart slab,” optimized for exactly these layouts and created by sand-based 3D printing. The full three-story structure should be complete and open to explore this fall. You can learn more at the project’s website.

Dropbox prices above its original range at $21 as it heads toward an IPO

Dropbox today said it is pricing above the range it originally set ahead of its public listing tomorrow, handing the company a valuation inching ever-closer to its original $10 billion valuation.

Dropbox earlier this week said it would price its initial public offering in a range between $18 and $20 per share, settling on a valuation near $8 billion at the high end of the range (or closer to $8.75 billion, based on its fully-diluted share count). With the new pricing, Dropbox will be valuing itself at around $8.4 billion — or a hair above $9 billion based on its fully-diluted share count. That $18 to $20 range, too, was a step up from its original proposed range, which fell between $16 and $18. Dropbox will be raising more than $700 million in the IPO, in addition to existing shareholders selling more than 9 million shares as part of the process.

What all this means is that Dropbox initially tested the waters to gauge interest, and clearly there was a lot. Companies sometimes set conservative price ranges (though this isn’t always the case) and then revise upwards as they see how much interest there is in potential investors buying shares at that price. Dropbox will make its public debut tomorrow, and the usual process here aims to get as much value for the company as possible while still ensuring the so-called IPO “pop” — usually a jump of around 20%. We’ll probably get the formal price in the form of an SEC filing this evening as it gets ready to list tomorrow.

Should that be successful, Dropbox would fall above the valuation of its last financing round, which gave the company a $10 billion valuation amid a hype wave of consumer startups. Dropbox, one of the original pioneers of online storage, in recent years has found itself looking to slowly scoop up more and more enterprise customers as it tries to create a second lucrative line of business. The company deploys a classic playbook of attracting initial customers within teams and then growing up to the point it reaches the C-Suite of companies, though the reverse is certainly possible as Dropbox matures over time.

CNBC first reported the news.