Drones build and repair structures in flight


Sobserving gathering storms, exploring and mapping inaccessible terrain, delivering medicines to hard-to-reach areas, or helping with archaeological field research - drones have become indispensable in research and technology. Researchers from Imperial College in London and the Swiss research center Empa present a new application for the flying robots in the current issue of the journal "Nature". Mirko Kovac and his colleagues use drones to print structures.

The researchers working with Kovac were inspired by the working methods of natural master builders such as bees and wasps. Their fleet currently consists of two drones, each with different tasks: While one drone is spraying liquid construction material onto a base, which then hardens, another, smaller drone is monitoring the construction progress.

In doing so, she checks whether the specified construction plan is being followed. She transmits her feedback to the construction drone. If the control drone is satisfied, the construction drone continues to print, otherwise it changes its strategy. In this way, the desired structure grows layer by layer.

Construction drone sprays a special mortar onto a base


Construction drone sprays a special mortar onto a base
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Image: University College London


The two drones essentially work autonomously, as the researchers write. They are only overseen by a human controller who oversees the build process and only intervenes when necessary.

In a feasibility study, two drones printed a polyurethane-based tower around two meters high. They then used a special mortar to create an 18 centimeter high cylinder consisting of 28 layers. The manufacturing accuracy for both structures was five millimeters, as specified in the specification.



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