3D Printing Drones: Technology to Repair and Build Structures While Flying


According to the researchers, a new technology (3D Printing Drones) can ultimately be used in constructing and structuring hard-to-access, remote or dangerous locations such as tall buildings and the relief constructions consequenced by disasters.  

3D printing has been there for too long, and now it’s gaining momentum in the construction industry as scientists have implanted 3D printers into flying robots – Drones to use them as repairers and builders of building structures. This technology can change the future of the construction industry and construction sites. Land packed with workers wearing heavy goggles and neon vests will now be loaded with drones that 3D print and construct the buildings’ structures.

A team of researchers and engineers from Imperial College of London, the Swiss Federal Laboratories of Material Sciences and Technology, has designed the 3D printing drones inspired by bee fleets. The flying 3D printing drones are now being tested in laboratories using various construction materials under different conditions. A collective building method using natural builders like wasps and bees’ flying techniques can be programmed in these drones. 

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

3D Printing Drones: Construction Materials 

Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering investigators working on this project researched the materials flying robots use to repair and build structures.

One of the investigators, Richard Ball, said: “We have developed new cutting-edge materials which are optimized for the unique properties required for aerial additive manufacturing, such as being low-viscosity, light-weight, and quick-setting.”

The drones in the fleet, collectively known as Aerial Additive Manufacturing (Aerial-AM), operated cooperatively from a single commanded plan, adapting their techniques as they proceed. The drones are fully automated but controlled by human controllers who would check their progress and intervene when required based on the information given by 3D printing drones.

3D printing drones: Geometry and Technology Incorporation

3D printing drones incorporate both the path-planning framework and 3D printing, helping flying robots adapt to variations in the structure’s geometry when required. The system consists of two parts; in the first part of the process, the fleet consists of BuilDrones, which deposit materials during their flights, and in the second part, ScanDrones (Quality controllers) constantly measure the BuilDrones output and direct their next manufacturing steps.

To test the concept, the researchers and investigators developed “four bespoke cementitious mixtures” for the 3d printing drones to build with. The drones ensure they adapt the behavior to meet the build specifications with a manufacturing accuracy of 5 mm.

This technology would ensure the future possibilities for repairing and building structures in tall buildings and hard-to-access locations. The researchers will advance this new approach by working with construction companies to validate this technology, providing repair and manufacturing capabilities.

“We believe our fleet of drones could help reduce the costs and risks of construction in the future, compared to traditional manual methods.” Said Lead investigator, Professor Kovac. Another researcher Robert Stuart-Smith co-leading the project told the Daily Beast “We’ve demonstrated the first-ever robots that are 3-D printing in-flight, and it’s a pretty amazing achievement,”

Using this technology, workers would have the power to make choices in the building processes, it would enable the future architect to alter designs during construction and adapt the project to complex circumstances and environments.

Muhammad Tufail Sheikh
Tufail Sheikh leads Techywired's coverage of computing and gaming niche. He has been writing about best gaming laptops and PCs which is his passion right from the start of his career. He is a gaming geek from the early childhood and you can always find him playing video games in his favorite couch.

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