Swarm of drones to print construction materials mid-flight

23 September 2022 09:09

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Dübendorf - The Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology has taken inspiration from bees to develop a swarm of drones that are able to cooperatively print and place 3D materials mid-flight. These BuilDrones are monitored by ScanDrones for quality control purposes.

An international research team from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) has developed a swarm of cooperative drones that could be used in construction projects. The researchers took inspiration from bees and wasps. As Empa reports, these flying robots are able to print out 3D materials in the air under human control and place them in the designated places. The performance of these BuilDrones is recorded and monitored for quality control purposes by a second fleet, the ScanDrones, which also relay the next production steps.

This is the first time that such detailed 3D printing processes have been carried out by a free-flying robot, as Empa also explains as part of a video. On September 21, the specialist journal “Nature” published the study carried out by the team headed up by Professor Mirko Kovac from the Materials and Technology Center of Robotics online, before also making it the cover story in its latest print issue published on September 22.

Known as Aerial Additive Manufacturing, it has been designed in such a way as to allow the drones to adapt their activities to the varying geometry of the structures in question over the course of the construction process. They act autonomously during their deployment, although a human controller is also on hand to monitor the process and makes adjustments as necessary based on the information fed back by the drones.

“We’ve proved the concept that drones can work autonomously and in tandem to construct and repair buildings, at least in the lab”, Kovac comments. Ultimately, this solution could facilitate construction and repair activities in areas that are not easily accessible, such as in tall buildings. According to Empa, the experts now want to work together with construction companies to validate the solutions developed in practice and to develop new repair and manufacturing options.

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