What started out as an idea to make it easier for one London-based architect to create 3D models of his buildings has turned into a revolutionary way for engineers to construct entire cities.

The Polibot, developed by London-based architect Arthur Mamou-Mani, began as a way for him to create large structures using heavy materials such as timber, bricks or concrete and recreate a large model of a proect from its blueprints.

He was tired of having to lug his 3D printer around, which is how he previously produced mock-ups of his designs and instead, turned to portable cable robots to build structures.

He secured £25,000 funding after winning a competition run by London-based engineering firm Arup and began working on his robot, which uses cotton ropes driven by four digitally controlled motors. It has interchangeable heads for moving different materials and parts, although the standard module has been designed to lift up to 3kg. One of the suggestions for Polibot’s future is to design a 3D-printing extruder too.

Arup was so impressed by the idea, that it is planning to use a larger scale Polibot to help build some of its full-sized buildings, attaching the ropes to nearby skyscrapers and lifting the modular parts into place. This will significantly speed up the time it will take to build even the largest, bespoke structures the firm explained.

Such a large-scale project is probably at least two years away though and there’s a lot of development is needed before it gets to that point. At first, Mamou-Mani wants to prove that buildings don’t have to be boring and uniform.

“The construction industry is full of standards: with Polibot, you can create extremely bespoke buildings and very non-standard surfaces,” Mamou-Mani said.