Swarming, 3D Printing Drones

Drones working together can create large 3D-printed structures made of foam or cement. Such creations would only be restricted by structural engineering constraints and factors like drone flight logistics.

The drone swarm construction takes inspiration from animals such as wasps and termites. “If you want to build something very large, typically in nature what happens is that many animals work together,” said Prof Mirko Kovac at Imperial College London and Advisory Board Member at Robocap, who led the project.

Kovac and his colleagues showed how several drones could cooperatively build a 2-metre-tall cylinder made of insulation foam and a 0.18-metre-tall cylinder made of special cement. The Aerial-AM framework comprises two kinds of aerial robot: the BuilDrone and the ScanDrone. The BuilDrone autonomously deposits the physical building material according to a predefined plan, while the ScanDrone monitors the structure as it takes shape, providing real-time feedback to the BuilDrone, which adjusts for variations with every layer deposited. The BuilDrone is also equipped with an adjustable nozzle — a “delta manipulator” — that can immediately compensate for errors that arise as the building material is deposited.

Each drone can operate for up to 10 minutes before needing to reload building materials and sometimes get a fresh battery. Additional testing and simulations demonstrated how up to 15 drones could coordinate flight paths and work together to build a dome. The drones can make their own AI-guided decisions about where to fly and how to deposit building materials, but they still require human supervision.