NSF Awards $256,000 to Startup Building Adobe Homes With Drones

Terran Robotics aims to reduce the cost of housing by using AI to harness abundant materials


BLOOMINGTON, Ind., October 19, 2020 — Autonomous construction startup Terran Robotics recently received a major boost in their mission to build ultra-low-cost adobe homes with UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). On August 11th, the NSF informed the company that they had been selected to receive the National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant. The award, which amounts to $256,000 will fund the company’s R&D expenses for one year. 


“NSF is proud to support the technology of the future by thinking beyond incremental developments and funding the most creative, impactful ideas across all markets and areas of science and engineering,” said Andrea Belz, Division Director of the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships at NSF.   


Zach Dwiel and Daniel Weddle founded Terran Robotics to radically reduce the overall cost of living by applying advanced robotics to the built environment. Dwiel, who spent several years as an AI researcher at Intel before co-founding Terran Robotics, and Weddle, an entrepreneur with extensive homebuilding experience, were frustrated by rising home costs and the blindspot of advancing technologies' capability to drastically reduce labor costs. Dwiel says their current goal is “to reduce the cost of housing by 10x in 10 years.”


To meet this ambitious goal, Dwiel and Weddle realized they would need to eschew the lumber, drywall, siding, and other components used in traditional stick-frame construction, in favor of radically lower-cost materials. After evaluating a variety of options, they identified the materials used in adobe homebuilding as the best choice. These materials—subsoil, sand, and straw—are nearly ubiquitous, and confer other benefits over homes built with conventional materials, including higher thermal mass for increased energy efficiency, lower embodied carbon, greater fire resistance, and drastically less wasted material.     


While their choice of materials is unconventional, it is Terran Robotics’ innovative use of UAVs as construction tools that is truly revolutionary. By using UAVs to move and manipulate the adobe mixture, the company will be able to build structures in a large range of shapes and sizes, at a drastically lower cost than building the same structures with traditional methods. Further, as the company collects data from its UAVs in the field, their building capabilities will continually increase in efficiency and scope. Dwiel says, “Through the use of AI and robotics, building techniques that were previously far too labor intensive for mass production become feasible. We’re excited to be pushing the envelope in terms of what a quality affordable home can look like.”  

Terran Robotics is currently accepting inquiries from people and organizations who are interested in building with their technology. Visit www.terranrobotics.ai to learn more.