Empa, the Swiss materials and technology research lab, has partnered with the UK’s Imperial College London to create flying 3D printers. Inspired by bees and other flying insects that work together to build things, the research team is working on drone swarms that can carry small amounts of material and deposit them in place while flying.
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Interestingly, they’ve come up with a sort of buddy-drone system where one drone does the printing, and a second drone scans the results for accuracy, feeding required adjustment data back to the printing drone in real time.
Here’s what the process looks like:
They call the technology Aerial Additive Manufacturing, or Aerial-AM. “We’ve proved the concept that drones can work autonomously and in tandem to construct and repair buildings, at least in the lab,” says research team leader Professor Mirko Kovac. “This scalable solution could help construction and repair in difficult-to-reach areas, like tall buildings.”
“The technology offers future possibilities for building and repairing structures in unbounded, high or other hard-to-access locations. Next the researchers will work with construction companies to validate the solutions and provide repair and manufacturing capabilities. They believe the technology will provide significant cost savings and reduce access risks compared to traditional manual methods.”