Inspired by bees, these 3D printed flying drones can repair buildings

Flying 3D printer drones work like bees

They fly fully autonomously but are monitored by a human controller (Image: YouTube/Nature Video)

Nature has long inspired technological design, and researchers have now developed flying 3D printers to construct and repair structures like bees.

The flying drones use building methods inspired by natural builders like bees and wasps.

Researchers believe they could ultimately be used for manufacturing and construction in hard-to-reach or dangerous locations, such as tall buildings, or to support construction after a disaster.

3D printing is gaining importance in the construction industry. Both on site and in the factory, static and mobile robots print materials for use in construction projects such as steel and concrete structures.

The cement-like material used by the drones was developed by Bath researchers for the project, which was led by Imperial College London.

Flying 3D printed drones work like bees to repair buildings

The fleet consists of BuilDrones, which deposit materials during flight, and quality-controlling ScanDrones (Image: YouTube/Nature Video)

“We have developed new cutting-edge materials optimized for the unique properties required for airborne additive manufacturing, such as: B. low viscosity, light weight and fast curing,” said Dr. Richard Ball, one of the researchers.

The drones in the fleet, collectively known as Aerial Additive Manufacturing (Aerial-AM), work collaboratively from a single blueprint, adjusting their techniques over time.

They are fully autonomous during flight but are overseen by a human controller who checks progress and intervenes if necessary, based on information from the drones.

The 3D printed drone research paper published in the latest issue of Nature describes the Aerial-AM. The fleet consists of BuilDrones that deposit materials in-flight and quality control ScanDrones that continuously measure the performance of the BuilDrones and inform their next manufacturing steps.

Flying 3D printed drones work like bees to repair buildings

Researchers have now developed flying 3D printers to build and repair buildings like bees (Image: YouTube/Nature Video)

“We proved that drones can work autonomously and in tandem to construct and repair buildings, at least in the lab. Our solution is scalable and could help us construct and repair buildings in hard-to-reach areas in the future,” said Professor Mirko Kovac, senior researcher at the Imperial Department of Aeronautics.

To test the concept, the researchers tested four cement-like mixes that the drones could build with.

During construction, the drones evaluated the printed geometry in real time and adjusted their behavior to ensure they met build specifications to within five millimeters of manufacturing accuracy. An important aspect of this is accurately predicting the performance of the printed structure to ensure mechanical integrity during the printing process.

“Our next step is to work with construction companies to validate our solutions and provide repair and construction capabilities,” said Dr. Paul Shepherd, another researcher.

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Justin Scacco

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