Written by Melissa Morman, Built4f.com

I feel very fortunate (except for the ensuing traffic!) to have my hometown of Austin host SXSW every year. It is where the best and brightest converge on tech, film, music, education, and culture, and of course Ken (Ryan Gosling) graced our fair city as well.

I had the privilege to attend an exclusive event, ‘Domus Ex Machina Icon’, this week where Jason Ballard (founder and CEO of Icon) unveiled his progress and intentions around sustainability/affordability/design/delivery of new homes. I have been tracking Jason’s progress ever since he first attended our 2018 BDX/DCX Summit (annual event to explore emerging technologies). Jason showed up five minutes before the session with slides in hand in a hoodie jacket and held his own on a stage with some very distinguished builder executives (in suits rather than hoodies!). He has traded his hoodie for a cowboy hat, but still seems to be vintage’ Jason’, which is refreshing.

The event this week was impressive and thought provoking, and in ways that I did not expect. We tend to think of Icon as a 3d concrete printer, but according to Jason, ICON is an “AI and robotics company focused on transforming the way we build and accelerating what we believe is a very exciting future”. This sounds much like solving world peace, but his updates/progress seem to suggest this is not all just vapor. Here were a few of his key updates:

Icon unveiled Phoenix ™, their newly launching 3D printer which enables multi story units and looks eerily like those freaky alien machines in the Tom Cruise ‘War of the Worlds’ movie! Beyond multiple stories, the new machines include foundation and roof structures, with claims of reducing build costs by $25k, compared to traditional stick-built homes. Now, that is newsworthy; finally, a new building method that appears to reduce cost and chip away at affordability.

CarbonX™ is a new low-carbon extrudable/printable concrete formula, which according to a MIT study just published last month, shows that the embodied and operational impacts of 3D-printed homes are lower than stick-built homes. Sustainability/carbon footprint issues are top of mind for our buyers, especially as we have more Gen Z’ers entering the market.

Icon has released CODEX ™, a digital catalog of ready-to-print homes. This seems on the surface a logical extension of how any company would offer their products. What is interesting about their catalog though is the crowd sourcing like approach, by partnering with and compensating architects all over the world to create new 3D home designs, which will quickly grow awareness and availability of Icon homes.

While Phoenix ™, CarbonX ™, and Codex ™ are impressive evolutions of what I would expect to see from Icon, I was more intrigued by his unveiling of Vitrivius ™, an AI system for building and designing homes. Of course, while infusing AI features and verbiage in every company/product is expected and almost has become what I call ‘AI white noise’ at this point, Jason’s claims of what he intends to accomplish and solve are a bit outside of what I would have expected to hear from Icon. His end game is to take human and project inputs and produce robust architecture, plans, permit ready designs, budgets, and schedules! Wow, there are a slew of companies in this space (most were in the West Hall of IBS last month) pounding away to solve slivers of the homebuilding digital journey, so while I applaud the mission, was left wondering ‘how’ Icon would achieve this. And of course, ever the optimist, I do want us to make progress in this area!

The live demo (which takes great courage in and of itself) of the new tool did not disappoint and was magical as one would expect. I have many questions around the tool. Is it only for 3D printed homes? How does it verify that the home is structurally sound and can actually be built, and at what cost? Once you design your perfect house, how do you find a land/builder to fulfill your dream? I just received my beta access and will be banging away over the next week, and of course since it is beta, I probably need to be patient, much as a new parent with a newborn, as Vitrivius ™ evolves.

Melissa Morman – Expert Profile

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