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ERO demolition robot concept recycles on the fly


July 15, 2013

Artist's concept of ERO the demolition robot in action

Artist's concept of ERO the demolition robot in action

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When it comes to demolishing buildings, there are almost as many ways to take them apart as put them up. We knock them down, blow them to bits, and build machines to take them apart. But what about a robot that eats buildings? Omer Haciomeroglu of Sweden’s Umeå Institute of Design has come up with the concept ERO concrete de-construction robot, which uses high-pressure water jets to strip concrete from rebar and recycle it on the spot.

Reinforced concrete consists of concrete poured on a mesh of steel rebar. This provides a great deal of strength, but it also makes demolition a slow, difficult process involving a great deal of smashing, bashing, and crushing. This brute force method is even used by advanced demolition robots that rely on jack hammers and shovels. The end result is a process that requires huge amounts of power, lengthy separation of crushed concrete and twisted rebar, and the machinery and transportation to achieve this.

There’s also a great deal of water involved because fire hoses are needed to continually douse the area to suppress dust. At the end, the waste material still needs to be transported out of town for disposal or to recycling at depots where the concrete and the last of the rebar need to be separated and the concrete crushed for reuse.

ERO is a winning concept design in the Student Designs category of the 2013 International Design Excellence Award and replaces several machines with a single autonomous robot type. It demolishes buildings by eating or “erasing” them section by section and layer by layer with an articulated arm equipped with a water-jet/vacuum head.

In operations, a fleet of EROs would be be deployed at a demolition site. The robots would move about on omni-directional tracks developed by Osaka University. These are cylindrical treads that propel the robot forward and back like a caterpillar tractor or rotate on their axis to make the robot crab sideways. According to Haciomeroglu, this allows ERO to dispense with hydraulic stabilizers and simplifies design.

The robots would scan the site, plan out their own routes, and then fan out to erase the building. They would do this by means of hydro demolition. This is a technique currently used for repairing reinforced concrete structures. EROS uses high-pressure water jets to hammer into the cracks in the concrete, pulverizing it and stripping it away by means of a vacuum system. What’s left is clean rebar that even has the rust stripped off. The more or less intact steel can be easily cut up for reuse or sent off for scrap.

Meanwhile, the water is recycled by a centrifugal decanter to separate it from the solids and the stripped concrete is separated into aggregate and cement and bagged by ERO, while turbulence dynamos reclaim part of the energy used in the process. The resulting bagged and labelled material is sent directly to concrete pre-cast stations nearby to produce new building blocks.

Sources: Omer Haciomeroglu, IDSA via inhabitat

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

What happens when it peels to the other side? Does the jet of water spew everywhere?

I'm also wondering how the suction apparatus functions in conjunction with such a powerful jet of water.

Racqia Dvorak

It looks like this hasn't left the concept stage of development yet. All I've seen are artist's conceptions of the machine. Not to say this wouldn't work, but there a few problems that come to mind. First off, creating enough high pressure water flow to supply a group of these machines has high initial and ongoing costs. Second, "water is recycled by a centrifugal decanter to separate it from the solids" sounds great, but separating the fine abrasive dust would be challenging to put it mildly. Yet if you don't, the high pressure pumps will fail quickly. And as to the "more or less intact steel can be easily cut up for reuse or sent off for scrap.", in any industrial nation this would be scrap even clean and undamaged. The costs of recovery would be too high. Overall I don't think this would be cost effective over simple demolition and running the reenforced concrete debris through a crusher to separate the steel scrap.

Siegfried Gust

It would have to use a lot of water and therefore generate a lot of waste water. What is the point in recycling the concrete if the output is going to further degrade our water supply?

Tom Arr

Anything that reduces the cost of high risk of demolition and facilitates recycling simultaneously has to be worth delivering


I seriously question the efficiency this offers. First there is no way those tracks are going to work well in the real world. How high are they going to be lifting the water every time around.

I think using concrete cutting saws to generate bite sized chunks (several tonnes each) and lowering them with a crane (lots of energy to be tapped there) and trucking the pieces to a well designed facility for processing would be more cost effective.

re; Siegfried Gust

Given the difference in density between concrete dust and water separating them with a centrifuge is not difficult. You can separate U-235 from U-238 with a centrifuge.

re; Tom Arr

As the article says, this uses less water than standard demolition techniques because it recirculates the same water rather than using fire hoses to spray water to keep the dust down.


Nano robots would make more sense. To use a combination of water, chemical and mechanical processes to separate different materials at a molecular level would require far less energy and resources.

Kevin Cloete

I guess this technology is simply an extension of the current water cutters used in industry - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_jet_cutter, so utilise some short range, focussed, high power cutting, but still interested how they would get a vaccum recycling to work once you breach the wall and have an open hole, if you only have access to one side

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