Timber construction is amongst the industries most impacted by the push towards AI and automation.
At the same time, just 2.5% of wood is upcycled and reused in construction projects, with almost 90% of wood-based products “downcycled or destroyed” in construction.
The innovation comes from Maestro, founded by Carlo Ratti and Mykola Murashko and attracted global attention with a proof-of-concept design at the “Digital Futures” exhibition in Shanghai last month.
They call it “AI Timber” and claim “it will redefine manufactured cross-laminated timber (CLT) with an AI-led process.”
The demand for CLT is booming, with demand for mass timber expected to triple by 2030 with “AI Timber” allowing manufacturers to maximise log utilisation in production.
It scans raw logs and saws them into non-uniform, irregularly shaped boards. It then identifies the optimal sequence to reconnect them to form a manufactured CLT panel.
According to Carlo Ratti, the push to develop “AI Timber” was driven by the push to decarbonise construction, with the UN claiming that concrete, steel and aluminium are responsible for 23% of global emissions.
“However, the industrial sawing process of cutting unique trees into standardised panels generates a large amount of wood waste,” Mr Ratti said.
He claims AI could reduce wood waste by up to 30% and assist the forest industry in demonstrating the full circularity of timber products.
“It’s also beautiful: the irregular geometry celebrates the original shape of the tree. We are using the artificial to bring out the brilliance of the natural.”
According to Mykola Murashko, a 23-year-old Cambridge graduate, timber unlocks new possibilities for prefabricated construction.
“Because engineered wood products are lightweight, renewable and dimensionally stable, we can design an entire building in our factory and then ship the flatpack of its components to construction sites worldwide,” Mr Murashko added.
Mr Ratti is a strong supporter of better utilisation of wood waste in projects. In April, he participated in the Fiera Milano in collaboration with Italian manufacturer Gruppo Saviola – which produces ecological panels from recycled wood.
Known as Wood You Believe? its façade comprises four tons of discarded objects to showcase the whole process of transformation of wood waste.
“By reintegrating everyday objects into our living spaces, the design complies with the principles of the Circular Economy to stretch their longevity and functionality beyond their intended life cycles,” Mr Ratti said.