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A team of researchers from Imperial College London and Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, have developed a special type of drone who uses collective construction methods and is able to construct and repair buildings. These so-called BuilDrones use 3D printing in flight and were inspired by the way bees and wasps function in swarms in nature. The new system called Aerial Additive Manufacturing (Aerial-AM) uses multiple drones and once, which will work together in a fleet from a single plane.

In recent years, additive manufacturing has become increasingly popular in the construction industry. Since the construction of the first 3D printed houses just a few years ago, the number of new projects involving AM technologies has steadily increased. As more companies discover the benefits of AM, technologies are also advancing rapidly as scientists and engineers seek to maximize the technology’s potential. A recent example of this is an impressive new approach to 3D printing, which was developed as part of a collaborative project between IImperial College London and Empa. The team created special drones (BuildDrones), which are able to work autonomously and build or repair houses, replacing human labor, and therefore saving time, costs and minimizing the risk of work-related injuries.

In the future, drones could also be used for construction in space (photo credits: Yusuf Furkan KAYA, Aerial Robotics Laboratory, Imperial College London / Empa)

How Antenna-AM and BuildDrone work

The newly developed drones consist of two different types of flying robots, BuildDrones and ScanDrones. The BuilDrones drop building materials during the flight, while the ScanDrones are able to monitor and measure the production of the BuilDrones and inform their next manufacturing steps. As mentioned earlier, the operation of drones can best be compared to bees or wasps building a hive or a nest. Although the drones operate autonomously in flight, they are monitored by a human controller who is able to monitor their movements and intervene if necessary, ensuring build quality. On top of that, the Aerial-AM technology uses a 3D printing and trajectory planning framework, which allows the drones to adapt to the changing geometry of the structure as construction proceeds.

In order to test the drones, the team developed four cementitious mixes that they can work with. The end result showed that the drones were able to assess printed geometry in real time and adapt their behavior while printing with an accuracy of five millimeters. Professor Mirko Kovac from Imperial’s Department of Aeronautics and Empa’s Center for Robotics Materials and Technology, who led the project, explained: “We have proven the concept that drones can operate autonomously and in tandem to construct and repair buildings, at least in the lab. This scalable solution could facilitate construction and repair in hard-to-reach areas, such as high-rise buildings. We believe that our fleet of drones could help reduce construction costs and risks in the future, compared to traditional manual methods. »

Apart from the already mentioned Saving time and money, the technology would also allow the construction and repair of buildings in high or hard-to-reach places, which would revolutionize the way buildings are constructed today. To learn more about drones, you can read the original press release HERE.

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*Cover photo credits: Imperial College London