Bee-inspired technology uses aerial drones to 3D-print structures

Building or repairing structures in hard-to-reach places is a daunting task, as it can be quite difficult to bring in cranes, scaffolding and what not. So scientists are creating a bee-inspired system that uses a flying 3D-printing drone to do the job.

Known as Ariel Additive Manufacturing (Aerial-AM), the technology is being developed by researchers from Imperial College London and Switzerland’s Empa Institute. It actually includes two types of quadcopter drones, which fly autonomously and communicate with each other.

First, there are builddrones. Working from a shared digital blueprint, these collaboratively build structures by expelling successive layers of material – such as wet concrete – through nozzles on their bottom. That nozzle is able to move laterally relative to the drone, to compensate for any inadvertent drifting from the latter.

The second type of drone is called scandrone. These oversee the printing process, evaluating the geometry of the structure as it is being constructed. Based on these observations, they advise BuildDrone on what to do next in order to stick to the blueprint and produce the intended finished product.

A close-up view of the Builddrone's print nozzle
A close-up view of the Builddrone’s print nozzle

Imperial College London

The system currently has a manufacturing accuracy of plus or minus 5 millimeters. And although it is designed to operate on its own, a human operator is kept in the loop so they can intervene and take manual control if necessary.

In the small-scale tests conducted so far, Ariel-AM has been used to create a 72-layer 2.05-metre-tall (6.7-ft) cylinder from expanded polyurethane-based foam, and a 28-layer 18- cm (7 -in) custom cylinder made of cement-like material.

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Mirko Kovac, project leader of the Imperial Department of Aeronautics and Empa’s Materials and Technology Center of Robotics, said, “We have proven the concept that drones can work autonomously and with minimal infractions to build and repair buildings in the lab. can.” “This scalable solution could help with construction and repair in hard-to-reach areas such as tall buildings.”

Looking ahead into the future, the Aerial-AM system could be anticipated to print buildings on Mars
Looking ahead into the future, the Aerial-AM system could be anticipated to print buildings on Mars

Yusuf Furkan Kaya, Hawaii Robotics Laboratory, Imperial College London / Empa

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Nature, The drone can be seen in action in the following video.

Readers would also like to take a look at Fly Elephant, a 3D-printing aerial drone being developed by Chinese company Deadibot.

3D Printing With Drones

Source: Empa

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