Build it like bob: These bee-inspired drones can 3D print buildings | Watch

Scientists have developed a fleet of drones that can 3D-print buildings and make manufacturing possible in remote, dangerous locations.

3D print drones
The drones could be used to help building projects in hard-to-access locations. (Photo: Imperial College London)

By India Today Web Desk: In what could be the next phase of civil engineering, a team of scientists have created a unique fleet of 3D printers that can fly like drones and help build and repair structures while in the air. Inspired by bees, the technology is aimed to make manufacturing and building in difficult-to-access, remote and dangerous locations possible.


As 3D printing technology gains new pace with its application being seen in almost every aspect of life, scientists want to introduce it into the modern-day construction and maintenance field. They have developed these printers on flying platforms like a drone and have exploited the same technique used by bees and wasps.


The details of the technology have been published in the journal Nature, which calls it aerial Additive Manufacturing (Aerial-AM) by utilising a team of aerial robots inspired by natural builders such as wasps who use collective building methods.

"We present a scalable multi-robot three-dimensional (3D) printing and path-planning framework that enables robot tasks and population size to be adapted to variations in print geometry throughout a building mission," the paper read.

Also Read | Meet Dart, a space probe that will bang into an asteroid this Monday

Developed by scientists from Imperial College London and Empa researchers, the drones work co-operatively from a single blueprint, adapting their techniques as they go. Designed to work autonomously, they are still monitored by a human controller who checks progress and intervenes, if necessary, based on the information provided by the drones.

“We’ve 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 to construct and repair buildings in difficult-to-reach areas in the future,” Lead author Mirko Kovac, Professor at Imperial’s Department of Aeronautics, said in a statement.

The technology offers future possibilities for building and repairing structures in tall or other hard-to-access locations. (Photo: Imperial College London)

The technology uses both a 3D printing and path-planning framework to help the drones adapt to variations in the geometry of the structure. The fleet is made up of BuilDrones, which deposit materials during flight, and quality-controlling ScanDrones that continually measure the BuilDrones’ output and inform their next manufacturing steps.

Also Read | Worrying trends in Arctic as sea ice cover declines to record level

During the demo test, the drones were able to assess the printed geometry in real-time and adapted their behaviour to ensure they met the build specifications. The team has integrated a dynamically self-aligning manipulator with the BuilDrone to improve the manufacturing accuracy to five millimetres for printing geometry with precise trajectory requirements.


As a proof of concept, the drone fleet was able to print cylinder 2.05metres high consisting of 72 layers of a rapid-curing insulation foam material and a cylinder 0.18metres high consisting of 28 layers of structural pseudoplastic cementitious material, a light-trail virtual print of a dome-like geometry, and multi-robot simulations.

Also Read | After getting into cars, Saudi women set to go into space