A team of flying robots inspired by animals, capable of building 3D-printed structures while in flight, is presented in a Nature paper. Future aerial robots could provide building support for housing and vital infrastructure in remote or hard to access locations.
Ground-based robots are being developed for onsite construction as they may be safer and more productive than human builders. However, these robots are limited by the maximum height they can operate at and large-scale systems require being plugged into a power supply, which reduces manoeuvrability. Conversely, natural builders — such as wasps, termites and barn swallows — are highly flexible and adaptable when building their habitats with the aid of flight.
Inspired by natural builders, Mirko Kovac and colleagues designed a new manufacturing method using a group of untethered aerial robots to collectively and autonomously construct 3D structures under human supervision. They developed BuilDrones, to deposit materials, and ScanDrones, to assess the structural quality. The robots constructed proof-of-principle cylinders using foam and cement-like material with heights of 2.05 metres and 0.18 metres, respectively. The structures were built with a high accuracy of 5 mm, which is acceptable within UK building requirements.
The authors suggest that following further development, future aerial robots could help build structures in difficult to access areas, such as hostile locations, areas at great height or remote locations at risk of natural disasters.