Future construction sites could look very different thanks to new flying 3D printing technology. Unlike plots of land filled with workers wearing neon-colored vests and goggles, these developments could one day be loaded with drones that 3D print new buildings.
A group of engineers from around the world have designed a team of flying robots capable of creating structures while hovering in the air. These drones open up the possibility for construction projects to exist in areas that would otherwise be out of reach, according to a study published Wednesday in Nature.
Inspired by insects like bees and wasps that use collective building techniques, the research team used a unique swarm of 3D printing drones that navigate on their own and deposit building materials.
“We have proven the concept that drones can operate autonomously and in tandem to construct and repair buildings, at least in the laboratory,” Mirko Kovachead of the robotics materials and technology center at the Swiss research institute Empa and co-responsible for research, declares in a statement. “This scalable solution could help with construction and repair in hard-to-reach areas, such as high-rise buildings.”
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is Already used to improve the efficiency and safety of some construction projects, according to the research. However, the large size of current 3D printing technology as well as the fact that this equipment is usually connected to a fixed power supply limits the ability of these machines to build in harsh environments that can be difficult to access.
To circumvent these limitations, the proposed technology uses two types of aerial drones that work together. The “BuildDrone” uses a deposit nozzle to discharge physical building materials and the “ScanDrone” observes and analyzes the deposit operations of its counterpart.
“These solutions can actually be very cost effective, efficient and provide a whole new way of working that is otherwise quite cost prohibitive using normal techniques,” Vijay Pawarco-author of the study and a computer science researcher at University College London in England, said The daily beastit is Maddie Bender.
As part of the study, the researchers illustrated proof-of-concept with the ability of drones to work together to build cylinders made from foam insulation and cement-like materials. The first of these towers was nearly seven feet high, and the second was only seven inches, for new scientistit is Jeremy Husu. The team’s simulations highlighted the possibility of building larger, more holistic structures using up to 15 robots.
As this technology continues to develop, researchers hope it will unlock building capabilities in remote areas or emergency situations. Aerial drones could help build housing and infrastructure where “unprecedented increases in the frequency of natural disasters and harsh climatic conditions make existing approaches to construction difficult,” the authors write.
Ultimately, drones could 3D print temporary homes for displaced people or perform repairs to infrastructure during a power outage, reports The daily beast. In the distant future, researchers envision their robots buzzing around Mars, according to the statement.
Rahul Pranat, a mechanical engineering researcher at Carnegie Mellon University not involved in the study, says The daily beast that the research speaks of developments in 3D printing and robotics technologies. “[Aerial robots] would remove barriers to many applications of 3D printing and overcome the limitations of current technologies,” he told the publication.
Still, Pranat adds that manufacturing and robotics technology needs to be improved before a group of drones can realistically be used in large-scale construction projects.
Researchers will continue testing the technology before it is available to be contracted for large-scale construction.
With the help of these drones that have the power to make choices throughout the construction process, future architects will have the opportunity to modify the design of buildings during construction and adapt their projects to complex environments, explains the co-responsible for the study. Robert Stuart Smith3D printing researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and University College London in England, for The daily beast.
“We showcased the very first robots that 3D print in flight, and it’s a pretty incredible achievement,” he told the publication.