Researchers are developing drones that can build structures • The Register

According to engineers who have developed a drone-based approach to 3D printing, flying robots could be the answer to the challenge of building structures in remote locations or hard-to-reach places.

Additive manufacturing in the air with multiple autonomous robots

Additive manufacturing in the air with multiple autonomous robots. Image: Kovac et al./Nature

Casing of cement or other structural medium over a huge 3D printing facility has already proven itself as a possible method automate the construction of houses and other buildings.

But the burly machines have limitations, which engineers suggest breaking through with drones to maneuver a 3D printing nozzle.

Bees and wasps building structures from pounded, vomited wood fibers provided inspiration for researchers at London Imperial College and Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. They have developed a new manufacturing process that uses a group of untethered flying robots to collectively and autonomously construct 3D structures under human supervision.

Drones, collectively known as Aerial Additive Manufacturing (Aerial-AM), are divided into machines that scan a structure or layer of land to create a plan (ScanDrones) and those that do the 3D printing, called BuildDrones. The latter are equipped with a nozzle that moves to take account of the volatility in the drone’s flight position.

Together, the drone teams work cooperatively on a single design and adjust their techniques accordingly over time a piece of paper Published this week in the journal Nature. The drones are fully autonomous during flight but are overseen by a human controller, who checks progress and intervenes if necessary based on information provided by the drones, the researchers said.

First author Professor Mirko Kovac, Director of the Imperial Department of Aeronautics and Empa’s Materials and Technology Center of Robotics, said: “We proved that drones can work autonomously and in tandem to construct and repair buildings, at least in the laboratory. Our solution is scalable and could help us in the future to construct and repair buildings in hard-to-reach areas.”

ScanDrone (left) and BuildDrone (right). Credit_ University College London, Department of Computer Science, London

ScanDrone (left) and BuildDrone (right). Photo credit: University College London, Department of Computer Science

In the test environment, the drones built proof-of-concept prints, including a 2.05m tall cylinder made from 72 layers of polyurethane-based foam. Another structure printed by the drones is an 18 cm high cylinder made of 28 layers based on a cement-like material.

Researchers claim the technology offers future opportunities for building and repairing structures in high or other hard-to-reach places. Next, researchers will work with construction companies to validate the solutions and provide repair and fabrication capabilities.

“We believe our fleet of drones could help reduce the cost and risk of building in the future compared to traditional manual methods,” Kovac said. ® Researchers are developing drones that can build structures • The Register

Laura Coffey

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