A swarm of drones that “print” buildings in 3D

A swarm of drones that “print” buildings in 3D

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Have you ever marveled at the architectural prowess of bees? So do some scientists. A team from the University of Pennsylvania designed a swarm of drones inspired by these tiny creatures. It is able to 3D print cement or foam structures.

The goal of this amazing project is to facilitate the construction of buildings in hard-to-reach places. “ This is exciting research that could affect how we build in hard-to-reach or dangerous high-rise areas such as high-rise buildings and bridges. Stuart-Smith, one of the researchers who worked on the project, said in a university press release. Recent advances have been published in the journal Nature.

The scientists were inspired by insects that use collective building methods, such as wasps, bees and termites… These little builders are robotic this time. To test their creation, the researchers had the swarm “imprint” a two-meter-tall cylinder of insulating foam, as well as a 0.18-meter-diameter cylinder made of special cement. First, one of the two construction drones flew in a circle and projected the material, building the structure layer by layer, like a 3D printer.

After printing the layers, a drone equipped with a depth-sensing camera recorded a 3D map of the work in progress. The rest of the drone team then used this mapping to adjust the remaining phases of construction depending on the specific needs of the structure. Machines have autonomy of action based on artificial intelligence. However, human supervision is still required. Each drone is capable of operating for ten minutes before materials need to be recharged. Some of these “pauses” are also used to recharge the battery.

Drones to intervene in irradiated areas

Although the construction was not done physically, the simulations also showed how a team of 15 drones can work together to create a dome-like structure. Scientists are already envisioning many uses for their flying workers. The construction of many buildings could be facilitated, as indicated by these diagrams contained in a scientific publication.

Additive manufacturing in the construction industry. Comparison of different additive manufacturing robot platforms with a red to blue gradient indicating improvements in scale, flexibility and access. Established platforms have limitations with respect to robotic platform scale: maximum build envelope, ability to manufacture in parallel, and site access capabilities. Aerial Additive Manufacturing (inside dotted inset) enables parallel manufacturing with unlimited assembly envelope in hard-to-reach locations. © Ketao Zhang et al.

In addition, drones could help restore buildings after natural disasters or even work on high-risk projects for people, such as repairing the concrete sarcophagus at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. However, many steps remain to be taken before this point is reached. In order to further develop their project, the researchers now intend to work with construction companies. Objective: to verify the developed solutions and provide repair and manufacturing capabilities “, specifies the press release.

A key goal will be to get drones to operate outdoors. In fact, all testing has been done inside the building for now. Several challenges will need to be met: finding a solution to efficiently charge the drones with electricity, materials and setting up a communication network capable of supervising a large number of drones without interference…

He published a video introducing the system Nature :

source: Nature

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