At first it doesn’t look like much. Just a concrete wall, 3 feet high and 5 feet long, sitting on the floor of a laboratory in Los Angeles. But this wall wasn’t poured. It was “printed” by the machine next to it, a robot armed with a concrete pump and a pair of trowels. Although the wall is nicely crafted, with a uniform surface and smoothly rounded ends, it’s just a trifle when compared with the robot’s next job: building a 2000-square-foot house.

The man behind the robot is Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California. Over the past several years he’s been developing Contour Crafting (CC), a fabrication technology for computer-generated designs. “It’s really just three-dimensional printing,” he says. “All geometries can be built with the process. Naturally I thought about using it for construction of houses.”